A new foundation aimed at extending the reach of the Internet to more of the global population has been announced by web pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

The World Wide Web Foundation, scheduled to launch early next year, will "advance a web which is open and free," said Sir Tim. The foundation will promote democracy, free speech and the freedom of internet users to access the online content they want, he said.

In addition, a major focus of the foundation will be to provide web access to the 80 per cent of the world's population that is not currently connected to the internet, said Sir Tim. "It will extend capability of the web to everyone on the planet."

The originator of the web acknowledged the goals he outlined are a "very big undertaking," but he said it's important for the web to benefit humanity as a whole, not just executives who want the latest pocket device.

Anticipating questions about what he envisions for the foundation and the web's future, Berners-Lee said his ideas were limited. The next generation of internet users should think of the web as a blank canvas, he said.

"If we can accomplish everything I can think of, we'll have failed," he added.

Berners-Lee mentioned two goals for the web in the future: to advance and create new forms of democracy, including meritocracies, and to help improve health care. The Web Foundation will also focus on web standards and interoperability and on advancing web science, he said.

The Knight Foundation, focused on improving journalism in the US, will provide $5 million in seed money to help launch the Web Foundation. The web is an important tool for journalism and freedom of speech and the press, said Alberto Ibarguen, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation.

Sir Tim said he had doubts about trying to push the web out to the most remote areas of the world, when many people need basic health-care, food and clean water. People in the web-connected part of the world need to understand others' needs "before we make rash assessments," he said.

But an African missionary told him a story about a man there who taught himself English by reading the Bible and other texts, then offered his services as an interpreter over the web. The man could bring money to his village through the web, Berners-Lee said.