World Wide Web Foundation

2016 Annual Report

In 2016, the challenges we face surrounding digital technologies were put into sharp focus. Emerging trends around topics like personal data, misinformation online and political advertising showed us that the fight for the web we want is more crucial than ever.

I’m proud of what the Web Foundation achieved in 2016, but it’s clear we have great hurdles to overcome in 2017 and beyond as we seek to fulfill the web’s true potential as a tool which serves all humanity.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Founder of the World Wide Web Foundation

The Web Foundation has long called for internet access to be recognised a basic human right. In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council issued a landmark resolution backing this view, calling for ‘the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet’.

Documented in this report, our work during 2016 has ensured more people than ever can fulfil this fundamental right, including those most vulnerable such as women and low-income populations. Now we must keep fighting to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access the web’s benefits.

Afsaneh Mashayekhi Beschloss

Chair of the Board of Trustees

Key to our work for digital equality is ensuring, not only that everyone has affordable access, but that they can use the web meaningfully to improve their lives when they get online.

This means that everyone can access information relevant to them. That they can create content without inappropriate censorship. That they’re able to communicate privately and securely. That they can access open government data and use it to make positive change in their communities. This is what the Web Foundation is fighting for. A web that works for everyone.

Adrian Lovett

President & CEO


Digital Equality: A world where everyone has the same rights and opportunities online.


To advance the open web as a public good and a basic right.

How we do this

Original research: to inform debates and policy recommendations

Advocacy: to persuade governments and firms to advance a progressive policy agenda

Experimentation & innovation: to drive practical, transformative change in local contexts

Image: Credo Action, CC BY-2.0

Our year at a glance

Affordable internet: ‘1 for 2’

Set a new global standard for internet affordability: 1GB of data for less than 2% of average monthly income.

Open data innovation

Harnessed the power of open data for practical solutions to local problems in countries around the world, from Côte d'Ivoire to Indonesia.

Empowering women & girls

Awarded the ITU / UN Women  GEM-TECH Award for our projects empowering women and girls through ICTs.

Advocacy based on evidence

Conducted groundbreaking research on internet affordability, open data and the impacts of zero-rated services to underpin high-level advocacy to promote an open and accessible web.


The internet is now recognised as a human right. Our work to make the internet more affordable has helped over 300 million people across 6 countries to realise this right.

Image: ITU/R.Farrell, CC BY-2.0

Image: ITU/R.Farrell, CC BY-2.0

Affordable Access for All

The Web Foundation leads the Alliance for Affordable Internet ( A4AI) — a global coalition of more than 80 organisations from government, business and civil society fighting to ensure that no one is denied access to the internet on the basis of cost.

‘1 for 2’ – Ensuring that income is not a barrier to access

This year, A4AI announced a new ambitious target for internet affordability: ‘ 1 for 2’ – 1GB of mobile broadband priced at 2% or less of average monthly income.

The UN Broadband Commission currently defines broadband as affordable if an entry-level (500MB) data plan is available at less than 5% of average monthly income. However, this definition of affordability does not account for poverty and income inequality — two major challenges facing the world today — and would leave access out of reach for large sections of the poorest people in society.

We found that when a basic broadband package is priced at 2% or less of average monthly income, access becomes affordable for all levels of income earners. Achieving this more ambitious target would help millions of people currently priced out of access to get online for the first time.

By the end of 2016, the ‘1 for 2’ target had been endorsed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); we hope to see other countries and international bodies follow soon.

Measuring the world’s progress on affordability

In September 2015, world leaders gathered at the UN and agreed that the internet is critical for global development and everyone, everywhere, should have access by 2020.

Measuring whether we are on course to achieve this goal, A4AI’s  2015-16 Affordability Report took an in-depth look at the barriers to affordable internet and found that without urgent action, we will miss this target by over 20 years, achieving universal access across the world’s least developed countries by 2042 at the earliest.

On current trends, we’ll see just  16% of people in the world’s poorest countries, and 53% of the world as a whole, connected by 2020. This is why our ‘1 for 2’ target is so crucial.

The report called for governments, companies, and civil society to work together to build open, competitive markets that drive prices down. At the same time it pointed out that lower prices alone won’t connect everyone. To ensure marginalised groups get online rapidly, we need to look to free or subsidised public access in tandem with digital education.

Campaigning for a FAST internet in Africa

While access is the first step, ensuring a quality internet connection is also critical. In May, we kicked off FASTAfrica — a campaign for Fast, Affordable, Safe and Transparent internet in Africa. The campaign delivered 30 grants for a week of action across 20 countries, which reached millions of people both online and off; demands from the campaign were delivered to the World Economic Forum in Kigali.

Investigating the impacts of zero-rating

In 2016, zero-rating — providing free or subsidised data for restricted web services — was widely touted as a way to connect people who could not afford full internet access. As the debate around the merits — and risks — of zero-rated services intensified, A4AI decided to investigate the availability, use, and impact of these service models across developing countries in order to develop informed recommendations on their use as a low-cost connectivity option.

To fill the dearth of empirical data available around the effectiveness of zero-rated and other mobile data plans, A4AI conducted a large-scale study to analyse the use and impact of zero-rated and other mobile data services across eight countries. The study found that:

  • Only 1 in 10 zero-rating customers (12%) are first time internet users; the vast majority of those using zero-rated services had previously been online.
  • Users prefer access to all of the web and would opt for limitations on time or data over limitations on the sites and apps they can access.

  • Public WiFi was the second most popular method of connecting to the internet (behind full-cost plans), strengthening the argument for investing in more and better public WiFi hotspots.

In short, the findings indicate that zero-rated mobile data services which limit users to a narrow slice of the web are not terribly effective at bringing more people online, and are primarily used as a means of ‘topping up’ other forms of (unrestricted) internet access, such as public WiFi and paid data.

Armed with this evidence, A4AI outlined a set of clear policy and regulatory guidelines for the provision  of zero-rated and other mobile data services. Together with A4AI, the Web Foundation will continue to work towards enabling open, affordable internet access for all.


World Bank, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Asian Development Bank, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Everyone should be able to access the web’s benefits regardless of income, race, gender, or any other factor. Our Women’s Rights Online network worked to break barriers to internet access and use for millions of women across 10 countries.

Empowering African women in tech policy

In September, we hosted the  Africa Summit on Women and Girls in Technology in Accra, Ghana. As the first event of its kind in the region, the Summit brought together 200 digital equality advocates from across Africa to discuss and debate the policy solutions needed to develop a strong digital future in Africa that is powered by — and empowering for — African women.

For two days, this inspiring group of advocates shared their experiences, insights, and ideas, and explored how technology policy can further the rights and interests of women in Africa, and how these policies can work to close the digital gender gap. These discussions fed into the  Accra Summit Action Plan —  a document which lays out principles and concrete actions to guide our work in this space. We plan to host a second Africa Summit on Women and Girls in Technology in 2018.

Research to bridge the digital gender gap around the world

At the Summit, we launched our  Women's Rights Online Digital Gender Gap Audit, which assesses the policy efforts and progress made toward tackling the main barriers to women’s online access identified in our pioneering  Women’s Rights Online study (2015).

Our research found that none of the  10 countries covered in the first round of the audit is doing enough to achieve gender equality online, with scarce examples of policies and programmes designed to improve access, affordability, digital skills, relevant content and services, and online safety for women.

Based on our findings, we developed global and national five-point action plan agendas on how governments can and must REACT to tackle growing digital gender inequality, with policies focused on Rights, Education, Access, Content, and Targets.

We presented this research and National Action Plans at national A4AI coalition meetings in  Ghana and  Myanmar, as well as in Jakarta at a  Forum on Women’s Rights Online in Indonesia; the Internet Governance Forum; the Open Government Partnership Summit; and at the  ITU Telecom World Conference.

We also engaged with the  UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, the EQUALS Partnership on Gender Equality in the Digital Age and the  Broadband Commission Working Group on the Gender Digital Divide to provide recommendations on policy strategies for implementing  Sustainable Development Goal 5 — to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

A number of high-level government officials have acknowledged the research and agreed that their ICT strategies should specifically address the needs of women. In a meeting with a WRO partner in Ghana, the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection affirmed her commitment to empowering women:

“The Internet and ICT generally are powerful tools that can empower women and help solve many of the social challenges which hold back progress for women and girls. I will therefore give premium to helping bridge the digital gender gap”.

The Ministry of Communications in Ghana has now committed to working with A4AI and WRO to reduce the digital gender divide.

Defending net neutrality in Europe

With net neutrality regulations being decided in Europe, 2016 was a crucial year in the battle to preserve the principle that internet service providers should give equal treatment to all content and applications.

We worked with the Save the Internet coalition, Avaaz and others, calling on regulators to issue strong net neutrality protections. Our founder, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, published an  open letter with Professors Larry Lessig and Barbara Van Schewick backing the  #savetheinternet campaign.

“We – the ordinary users of the Internet – don’t have expensive lobbyists. But we have millions of people – everyday Europeans, startups, investors, small businesses, activists, NGOs, bloggers, independent artists – who have experienced the power of the open internet first hand and want to protect it.”
Sir Tim Berners-Lee

500,000 of you signed on, submitting responses to the public consultation — and you were heard!  New guidelines were passed, upholding net neutrality principles.

Image: Credo Action, CC BY-NC 2.0


We worked from Cote d’Ivoire to Indonesia to arm people with open data and the skills to use it, so they can make their communities better and hold governments accountable.

Harnessed gender data to fight for equality

Most countries suffer from a lack of reliable, gender-specific data on vital areas such as health, education and economics. To tackle this problem in Côte d’Ivoire, we held an open data challenge specifically focused on gender data, in partnership with the UN. The TechMousso project brought technologists together with policymakers and civil society to build technology solutions to address problems that affect women — with a $10,000 prize up for grabs.

80 teams entered the competition, with 20 progressing to the final round. The winning idea, from team Mafubo, was a web app to allow nurses to better monitor and support pregnant women in maternity wards.

The competition was the first ever national multi-stakeholder data forum in Côte d'Ivoire, and paved the way for a national dialogue on data, open data and data needs, especially for women. The National Statistics Institute sent us an official congratulatory message, thanking us for our efforts.

Laid groundwork for OpenOwnership, a tool to tackle corruption

The Panama Papers release in 2016 revealed the huge costs that global corruption inflicts on society and was an urgent reminder of the need to hold those who abuse the global financial system to account.

Yet, across the 92 countries we surveyed, only one — Australia — makes company data fully open, leaving anonymous companies as convenient vehicles to hide financial assets.

To fight for a more accountable financial system, we partnered with other leading transparency organisations to launch OpenOwnership — an initiative to build an open global register of beneficial ownership data. Making beneficial ownership information public is a powerful tool to end anonymous companies, helping to tackle corruption, money laundering and fraud.

The register is now in beta and governments, including those in Ghana and Ukraine, have committed to working with OpenOwnership to integrate their national data with the global register — first crucial steps towards a truly global register of beneficial ownership.

Continued to hold governments accountable on open data

In April we launched the 3rd Edition of our Open Data Barometer to track the progress of open data initiatives around the world.

The good news is that for the first time over half of the 92 countries studied have open data initiatives. However, fewer than 10% of the datasets vital for global development were open. Worse still, most open data is found in rich countries, with nearly half of the open datasets in our study found in just 10 OECD countries, and almost none in Africa. This data inequality acts as barrier for the many countries that need this information to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Barometer offered six actions that countries can take to move their open data efforts forward:

  1. Get behind the Open Data Charter.

  2. Expand and deepen open data practice.

  3. Finish the job — make sure the government data published is truly open.

  4. Harmonise open data, privacy and freedom of information efforts.

  5. Consult data users and prioritise the data citizens and data users want.

  6. Provide funding, training and support for developing countries to close the data gap.

The Barometer results were reported by global and national media around the world, and allowed the Web Foundation to push forward conversations on how we make sure governments remain committed to transparency and to opening up government data in a meaningful way. The Barometer has become a key benchmark for policymakers and civil society and is being used to measure progress and change policies in 15+ countries, including Canada, South Korea, Mexico, Ukraine, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Championed the Open Data Charter

We continued to push governments and multilateral organisations to adopt the principles of the International Open Data Charter, so that government data can be used by, and for the benefit of everyone.

“To achieve the goals of sustainable development, critical data must be open and available for reuse by anyone, anywhere, anytime.”
Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Since the Charter launched in 2015, the Web Foundation has been an integral force in promoting its adoption as a member of the charter's advisory body and as a Lead Steward, supporting implementation and measurement of progress.

In 2016, we ran a number of events around the world to encourage key decision makers to sign up to the Charter. We co-organised the International Open Data Conference in Madrid, welcoming 1,200 experts from 42 countries. At the conference, the governments of Costa Rica, Paraguay, Sierra Leone and Ukraine all announced their adoption of the Charter.

At the Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit in December 2016, we used the Charter principles to deliver recommendations on improvements to the draft National Action Plans (NAPs) of various governments, including Australia, Israel, Italy and Papua New Guinea, encouraging them to fully embrace open data principles.

As of the end of 2016, dozens of national and subnational governments have adopted the Charter and form part of a growing community of governments dedicated to making open data a reality for citizens.

Used data to solve local challenges in Indonesia

Now in its second year, our  Open Data Lab in Jakarta supported a host of initiatives harnessing the power of open data to address social challenges. We partnered with governments to launch open data portals, helped organisations ue open data to improve their communities, and held workshops to arm people with the skills they need to turn data into action.

One success story came from Lab partner  GeRAK Aceh. Partnering with the Lab and working with open data for the first time, the Indonesian anti-corruption watchdog was able to use open data to score a major policy victory, pressuring the provincial government of Aceh to extend a moratorium on mining to 2017. While this advocacy involved a range of tactics,  GeRak credited the open data skills they learned as crucial to achieving the reforms.

The Lab also announced  “Innovating for Open Cities” in partnership with  Making All Voices Count — a project designed to harness open data’s potential to make fast-growing cities better, more efficient homes for their citizens. We worked with the following partners in Jakarta to improve the city’s use of open data:

A big focus of the Lab’s work is fostering collaboration and learning. In November, we brought 21 innovators together for  Southeast Asia Open Data Innovation Week to build best practices for designing and implementing open data initiatives. The event produced a number of tools that are available to others embarking on open data projects.

Images: Haley, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Organisational Development

In 2016, the Web Foundation continued to strengthen and grow as an organisation, developing our expertise so we are equipped to respond to new challenges to an open web.

We created a Policy Director role for the first time, with Craig Fagan leading our push for positive policy change. Eleanor Sarpong joined us as the Deputy Director and Policy Lead for A4AI. And we welcomed Nanjira Sambuli to spearhead our digital equality advocacy efforts, focusing on our Women’s Rights Online programme.

Towards the end of the year we gathered for a full-team meeting in Cape Town to develop a new organisational strategy centered around digital equality — a world where everyone has the same rights and opportunities online.

To find out more about our fight for digital equality, watch our explainer video:

#ForEveryone – We fight for digital equality because everyone has the right to access the internet and use it freely and fully.

#ForEveryone – We fight for digital equality because everyone has the right to access the internet and use it freely and fully.


Here are some key figures about the Web Foundation’s finances in 2016. Full details are available in our audited financial statements and a list of current funders is always available.

At a glance:

Supporters and How to Give

As an unendowed foundation, we depend on the support of generous individuals, foundations, companies and others to ensure that everyone can access the web and use it to improve their lives. In 2016, you’ve helped us make the internet affordable for millions of people, win key fights for net neutrality, and support open data innovators improve their communities. We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who supported us in 2016, and look forward to continue to fight for a free and open web for everyone.

To give, donate online or email us at

With thanks to those who supported our 2016 work:

Adam Scott

African Development Bank

Ana Lopes

Antony Woods

British Embassy Guatemala

Cassandra Marketos



Ernesto Tejedor Ruiz


Facebook UK

Facebook US*

Ford Foundation*

Founders Forum

Fund for the City of New York

Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

Goethe Institut Asia





Institute for Development Studies

Intel Corporation

International Development Research Centre (IDRC)*

Joseph Taylor

Kaia Miller and Jonathan Goldstein

Marcia Blenko


Millennium Challenge Corporation

Norway Rainforest Foundation


Peter Poon

Rosemary Leith

Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA)*

The Tides Centre

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

UK Department for International Development (DFID)*

UN Woman*

United Nations Foundation*


Vieira de Almeida

World Bank

Youth Innovations

*Donated over $100,000

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