August 22nd, 2013. Two days ago, Facebook announced the launch of Internet.org, a global partnership – including Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung – dedicated to accelerating the process of bringing Internet access to 5 billion people that currently lack it.
Today, there are 2.7 billion Internet users, while with a global population of approximately 7.1 billion people. In order to bring Internet connectivity to the 5 billion people that still lack it, Internet.org is focusing on expanding mobile broadband Internet access. This is logical given that mobile is increasingly the entrance point for new Internet users because of its lower barriers to entry compared to desktop access; mobile phones cost much less than computers. Mobile subscriptions on feature phones still outstrip any other form of connection: in 2012, there were 6,835 million mobile subscriptions (or 96.2% of the world), while there were only 696 million fixed broadband subscriptions (or 9.8% of the world).Building off this existing mobile infrastructure, mobile Internet traffic has reached 15% of the global total and is predicted to increase to 30% by next year, growing from 0% in 2008. In some countries, this trend towards mobile has advanced extremely rapidly. In India, for example, mobile Internet already overtook desktop access in 2012. This creates a significant opportunity for Internet.org to extend broadband access; their mobile focus is backed up by a list of partners that includes the who’s who of mobile hardware and software producers, and is expecting to work closely with mobile carriers.
In an interview with CNN, Mark Zuckerberg (CEO, Facebook) said that Internet.org will focus on a few core objectives, but will remain flexible to pursue opportunities as they develop over time. Their primary initiatives include:
- Making access more affordable by launching projects such as developing low-cost, high-quality smartphones for emerging markets;
- Using data more efficiently by creating technologies such as data compression tools that will reduce the total amount of data to power most applications and Internet interactions;
- Helping businesses drive access through the development of new business models to align incentives between operators, device manufacturers, developers and others to extend this access through sustainable markets.
Facebook has long been a pioneer in developing new and innovative access points to the Internet – and, of course, to its own social networking platform – through applications like Facebook for Every Phone, which allows feature phones without to affordably connect to Facebook. Facebook for Every Phone recently reached 100 million monthly users. Facebook has also partnered with U2opia to allow feature phone users to connect, check and update their Facebook profiles via SMS and traditional GSM technology. If Internet.org and its network of partners are successful in connecting 5 billion new users to the Internet – even if they accomplish a fraction of this goal – the landscape for every technology company focused on emerging markets will be vastly different. This new user base will create extensive opportunities to deliver necessary services. Perhaps more importantly, as Zuckerberg implies in his white paper, “Is Connectivity a Human Right?”, this will be a step forward in reducing a significant global inequality: that of connectivity and access to information through the Internet.