In August of 2013, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the launch of Internet.org, an initiative that aims to bring affordable Internet access to two thirds of the world’s population not connected to the Internet. Facebook partnered with a surprising combination of its would-be rivals such as Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung and Qualcomm to deliver the Internet to almost five billion people without access. Zuckerberg realizes the massiveness of this task and acknowledges that no one company can achieve it alone.
The companies will band together to improve the infrastructure needed to provide sustainable Internet service to under-connected regions. Their first goal is to reduce the cost of Internet access to 1% of its current cost within the next five to 10 years. The focus will primarily be on the ready-made market of mobile phone usage through which one-quarter of the developing world accesses the Internet. By making cheaper phones and also by making it possible for anyone with a phone to get online, connectivity will improve drastically. Lower production costs will make it feasible to offer free service to those who cannot pay and deliver service to the rest at reduced prices.
Because many phones in developing countries have limited internal memory, Internet.org will have to improve the efficiency of delivering data by creating apps, platforms, devices and operating systems that require less data usage. For example, using the Facebook Home model, they will use intelligent caching to eliminate redundant image downloads.
Internet.org is ultimately meant to move the industry forward and society as a whole with it. Internet connectivity has proved a valuable tool in addressing poverty, inequality and democracy by giving the disadvantaged a voice in the global scene. Those who are not connected will have access to opportunities that the rest of the world benefits from. A video on Internet.org uses a speech by former president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, to imply that their mission is more than one of idealistic goodwill, but to provide connectivity as practical and attainable human right.
Facebook’s role in this massive undertaking might not be a completely altruistic one. Given the dominance Facebook has had in the developed world, the rest of the world seems like a ripe market ready to be tapped. Facebook’s partnership with Chinese chipmaker Spreadtrum to manufacture phone chips suitable for Facebook use on Feature Phones can be seen as a self-serving move to expand the company’s reach.
Mark Zuckerberg responds to accusations that his efforts are financially motivated by stating that the first 1 billion people that Facebook already serves have more money than the next 6 billion people combined. He says that he is doing this because he thinks that everybody deserves the Internet.
While remaining cautiously optimistic, we must acknowledge that there is a lot to be gained by all if Internet.org delivers what it promises to.