Facebook Inc. (FB:US) Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg is forming a group with other technology companies to expand access to the Internet for the 5 billion people who have yet to get online.
The new group, Internet.org, includes partnerships with mobile-device makers Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) and Nokia Oyj (NOK1V), and chipmaker Qualcomm Inc., Facebook said in a statement yesterday. About one-third of the world’s population, or 2.7 billion people, have access to the Internet, and the group will help those who can’t afford to connect, it said.
“Everything Facebook has done has been about giving all people around the world the power to connect,” Zuckerberg said. “There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy. Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges.”
The new group, which follows Facebook’s own efforts to expand Internet access in emerging markets, intends to develop projects and mobilize industry and governments to enable more people to move online. Facebook, owner of the world’s largest social-networking service, is looking for new ways to attract more people to its service, which has more than 1.15 billion users.
Other partners include Web-browsing company Opera Software ASA (OPERA) and wireless telecommunications-equipment provider Ericsson AB. The group will focus on three key areas for developing countries, including making the Web affordable, using data more efficiently and supporting the development of new business models for improving access.
“We are committed to shaping the Networked Society -- where everyone and everything will be connected in real time,” Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg said in the statement. “We believe affordable connectivity and Internet access improves people’s lives.”
In a white paper released yesterday, Zuckerberg said the “knowledge economy” is the future, and more people should be able to join it with access to the Internet while still enabling the industry to boost profits and build infrastructure.
“We believe it’s possible to sustainably provide free access to basic Internet services in a way that enables everyone with a phone to get on the Internet,” he wrote. “Today, the global cost of delivering data is on the order of 100 times too expensive for this to be economically feasible yet.”
Already, the company has invested more than $1 billion to get people in developing countries on the Web, and it plans to do more, he said in the white paper.
Zuckerberg is expanding his influence into broader issues beyond his day-to-day duties as CEO of the Menlo Park, California-based company. In April, he announced the creation of a group called Fwd.us to lobby for immigration changes in the U.S. In February, he welcomed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to his California home for a political fundraiser.
The group announced today follows Facebook’s “Open Compute” project, which seeks to expand access to energy-efficient hardware in corporate data centers.
Google Inc. (GOOG:US) unveiled plans earlier this year to expand Internet access through what it called “Project Loon.” Google wants to use balloons traveling “on the edge of space” to connect people in rural or remote areas of the world to the Internet.
The Google move generated sharp comments from Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT:US), in an interview earlier this month in Bloomberg Businessweek.
“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you,” he said.
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