Facebook Leads Challenge to Connect the Next 5 Billion People

Facebook, with partners Ericsson, Mediatek, Opera, Samsung, Nokia and Qualcomm, is taking on "one of the greatest challenges of our generation."

Facebook, Ericsson, Mediatek, Opera Software, Samsung, Nokia and Qualcomm have joined to form Internet.org, an organization focused on making the Internet available to 5 billion more people.

Currently, 2.7 billion people, or just more than one-third of the world's population, have access to the Internet, and so tools that enhance our lives, grow our worlds, and boost our personal and national incomes.

Bringing those same opportunities to others around the world "is one of the greatest challenges of our generation," Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's 29-year-old CEO, said in a position paper, Is Connectivity a Human Right?, that he posted to his Facebook page Aug. 20.

More Internet users will mean more Facebook users, yes. But it will also mean more jobs and more innovations. According to analysis from McKinsey, the Internet—and the knowledge economy it perpetuates, versus the industrial and resource-based economies people otherwise must compete in—creates 2.6 new jobs for every job lost to "gained efficiencies," said the paper.

It also noted that over the last five years, the gross domestic product (GDP) growth that the Internet contributed in developed countries increased by 21 percent, versus 10 percent 15 years ago, with 75 percent of those gains experienced by companies outside of the technology industry.

How to Connect the Next 5 Billion

The major obstacle to getting more people online is money.

The wireless infrastructure is expensive—the global infrastructure that keeps the Internet on costs "tens of billions of dollars every year"—and by extension purchasing wireless data is expensive for many people. Further, for those without an Internet connection, the concept of purchasing a data plan is too abstract. Often, however, even people who don't understand what a data plan is have heard of Facebook and want it, and in this way Facebook can be a global stepping stone of sorts, the paper suggests.

"If we can provide people with access to these services [aka Facebook] then they'll discover other content they want and begin to use and understand the broader Internet," wrote Zuckerberg.

The next steps, then, include providing some free access to basic Internet services and using smarter technologies to lower the costs surrounding the Internet's infrastructure, making it more sustainable for more people and making applications and other components more data efficient.

Efficiencies can come through smarter caching technologies, better compression and smarter apps, and even by moving more people to prepaid models. Unlimited data plans encourage behaviors akin to leaving the lights on when you're not the one paying the energy bill, the paper suggests.

Prepaid plans create a "data-conscious mentality that we often don't see in developed countries, but it will be important to internalize this to efficiently deliver services to the next 5 billion people," wrote Zuckerberg.

In addition to making the Internet more affordable and tools more efficient, the Internet.org partners plan to support the development of new business models that make it easier for people to get online.

"This includes testing new models that align incentives for mobile operators, device manufacturers, developers and other businesses to provide more affordable access than has previously been possible," the group said in a statement.

"There is no guarantee that most people will ever have access to the Internet. It isn't going to happen by itself," wrote Zuckerberg. "But I believe connectivity is a human right, and that if we work together we can make it a reality."

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