Kayak Co-founder Embarks on a Trip to Expand the Web in Africa

Just 8.7 percent of Africa’s billion-plus residents have Internet access, but one man plans to increase that percentage by spreading Wi-Fi throughout the continent over the next decade. Paul English, CTO and co-founder of the travel search site Kayak.com, has installed small-scale, one-off networks in various African nations and now plans to use the wealth created from Kayak to scale up his access efforts, reports Fast Company. English’s ambitious non-profit JoinAfrica project will launch launch later this summer.

In the Google Group set up for JoinAfrica communications, a resident of Ghana expressed concern that such an approach won’t allow the free market to take its course when it comes to African web access. English himself responded by saying:

“JoinAfrica intends to work with for-profit African teams, in developed areas and under-developed areas. We plan to start first where there is existing fiber, and to provide tools to setup bandwidth-shaped free wifi limited to text (and small graphics). This should grow potential userbase.

And once people want to move from the free text-only Internet to an Internet with voice, video and large images — they can then pay market rates to a local African company to have the “full” Internet. I expect JoinAfrica to have many phases. Once we prove the free-to-fee wifi model in areas with fiber, we then need to find ways to use this model to finance more and more fiber for other areas.”

This isn’t the first undertaking to expand web access in Africa — in 2008, Google invested in O3b Networks, a satellite and fiber solution launched to blanket emerging markets with the Internet. But the JoinAfrica endeavor is taking a different approach: The initial focus will be on spreading free and low-cost Wi-Fi access to existing or planned bandwidth pipes for basic web usage, but still leave room for businesses to join in and make money through value-add services. A major infrastructure partner is expected to help JoinAfrica, but English hasn’t yet revealed who that might be.

Even if JoinAfrica increased web access to just 15 percent of the total African population, the impact would be monumental as it would enable 63 million — or roughly the equivalent of the entire UK population — more people to communicate, investigate and participate on a global network. That sounds like a journey that’s right up English’s alley.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Infrastructure Market Overview, Q1 2o10

Image courtesy of Kayak

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