Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a slew of partners just launched Internet.org to bring digital connectivity to the world.
According to a press release, the founding members of the initiative include Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung. These technology giants have committed to developing joint projects, sharing knowledge, and mobilizing governments.
Aside from the societal benefits of bringing access, Facebook has plenty to gain from Internet.org. It’s a massive customer acquisition and expansion plan. Currently, one in seven people in the world use the social network. That number would drastically increase if the four billion people who live in poverty or in rural areas were granted Internet access.
Zuck announced the news on a rare Facebook status update this evening, which amassed thousands of likes in mere seconds. He wrote:
For nine years, we’ve been on a mission to connect the world. We now connect more than 1 billion people, but to connect the next 5 billion we must solve a much bigger problem: the vast majority of people don’t have access to the internet.
“I’m focused on this because I think it’s one of the greatest challenges of our generation. I’ve attached a rough plan I’ve written outlining the work Facebook is doing to solve this and how our industry can work together to connect the next 5 billion people.”
For those who are curious about the specifics, Zuckerberg admitted that he only has a “rough plan.” However, the New York Times reports that the primary goal for the project is to cut the cost of delivering Internet services on mobile phones, particularly in the developing world. The group intends to develop new business models that would allow phone companies to provide simple services like e-mail, and of course, access to social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter at no charge.
Indeed, developing countries in Asia and Africa offer a huge market opportunity for tech companies — if they can figure out how to get people connected.
Various tech and mobile executives voiced public support for the initiative, alongside Zuckerberg. Google is noticeably absent from the lineup, despite that the search giant has invested heavily on improving Internet access. The latest unconventional idea, dubbed “Project Loon,” would deliver WiFi — believe it or not — by balloon.
In a statement, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said the European phone maker got involved as “universal internet access will be the next great industrial revolution.” Paul Jacobs, chief executive of Qualcomm, echoed similar statements. He said, “mobile has helped to transform many people’s lives in the emerging regions where often a computing device will be the first and only mobile experience they’ll ever have.”
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