Zuckerberg eyes global growth with access project

Facebook is leading an initiative to lower the barriers to Internet access in developing countries, an effort that further positions the social network's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg as a global industry leader.

Facebook is leading an initiative to lower the barriers to Internet access in developing countries, an effort that further positions the social network's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg as a global industry leader.

Continuing its refrain of making the world “more open and connected,” Facebook outlined its mission for the project, called Internet.org, in humanitarian terms.

“The unfair economic reality is that those already on Facebook have way more money than the rest of the world combined, so it may not actually be pro?table for us to serve the next few billion people for a very long time, if ever,” Zuckerberg wrote in a white paper explaining his strategy. “But we believe everyone deserves to be connected.”

Tech giants including Samsung, Nokia, Qualcomm, and Ericsson have signed on as partners on the project. The companies intend to lower the cost of technologies used to access the Internet through cheaper smartphones or local operating partnerships, bring data usage down with more efficient apps and network capabilities, and work on developing sustainable business models in local markets.

Cynics might argue that for all of Zuckerberg's lofty rhetoric about connectivity as a “human right,” the initiative is ultimately about Facebook gaining more business. And they might be right – if Facebook and other technology companies want to attract more customers, their best bet is to look beyond the saturated markets of the US and Europe to less developed countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.      

This is also not the first effort to improve Internet services and infrastructure in developing countries. Google recently launched a program called Project Loom, which will attempt to beam Internet access down to earth from plastic balloons floating more than 11 miles in the atmosphere. Twitter has struck deals with about 250 mobile companies in more than 100 countries to make the service free or easier to use on cell phones.

Zuckerberg is smart to marry humanitarian goals with business motives. He has done this before – speaking out on the importance of immigration overhaul, for example. Despite the detractors who claim Facebook is losing popularity among the digital generation, Zuckerberg has successfully created a platform from which to wield his influence.

As Zuckerberg himself said: “Even when they can afford it, many people who have never experienced the Internet don't know what a data plan is or why they'd want one. However, most people have heard of services like Facebook…and they want access to them.”

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