Zuckerberg, other tech leaders, launch initiative to increase global Internet access


(LEON NEAL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
August 21, 2013

Is connectivity a human right? Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg posed that question on the company’s press site Tuesday night as he announced that Facebook — along with a handful of other tech firms — have laid out a plan to make Internet access more affordable across the globe.

“For almost ten years, Facebook has been on a mission to make the world more open and connected,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Today we connect more than 1.15 billion people each month, but as we started thinking about connecting the next 5 billion, we realized something important: the vast majority of people in the world don’t have access to the internet.”

Joining Facebook in the effect, Zuckerberg said, are Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung. The partners aim to connect the two-thirds of the world’s citizens who have no Internet access at all. Together, the firms have set up a Web site called Internet.org, where they have outlined their plans in greater detail. Unlike Google’s Project Loon, designed to better connect the world through a network of high-flying balloons, the Internet.org plan seems to focus largely on expanding and improving current network technology to wire the unconnected parts of the world.

Of course, as altruistic as motives here may be, it’s more lucrative to have more people using the Internet and the Web in their daily lives for all the companies involved in the initiative: Networking and component companies would be laying the infrastructure for better Internet around the world; mobile and other device manufacturers and online service firms would also reap the benefits.

Facebook, after all, recently announced that it has reached 100 million people on feature phones — still the communication device of choice in much of the world. The social network would be in a good position if it can build on that base down the line with more smartphone users who post, connect and click on ads.

Find out where the world’s internet users live.

Still, that’s a long play, and the basics of connecting so many more people to the network must come first. In a paper outlining the initiative, Zuckerberg wrote that he plans to increase Internet access by making it more efficient to deliver data, making more efficient apps and Web services to decrease data use and by working with businesses to encourage people to use the Internet for daily tasks.

Facebook is contributing by distributing plans for better servers and data centers through its Open Compute Project and by looking for ways to makes the basic transfer of data more efficient. Zuckerberg also suggested that initiatives, such as making white-space spectrum — airwaves that are owned by companies and the government but aren’t actively used — be more available for consumer use. He also said the industry needs to improve its ability to process payment and credit, as well as verify identities, online.

In his paper, Zuckerberg said that the group knows its project will likely have to “evolve” as it moves forward. “I hope this rough plan can serve as a blueprint for some of what we’ll all need to do to connect the next 5 billion people,” he said.

(Washington Post Co. Chairman and CEO Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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