Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced the social network is joining with six other technology companies to help provide Internet access to the more than 4 billion people who still have none.
The new initiative -- Internet.org -- aims to reduce the cost of access in developing regions, create apps that are more efficient in data use, and to forge partnerships with local operators and companies on new business models to help broaden Web access.
"There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy," stated Zuckerberg in announcing the new group. He noted that Internet.org makes "Internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it."
Along with Facebook, the founding members of Internet.org include Samsung, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Nokia, Opera and MediaTek. The predominantly mobile makeup of the alliance underscores the key role that mobile technology is expected to play in delivering low-cost access globally.
Overall, an estimated 2.7 billion people -- or about a third of the world’s population -- now have Internet access, with adoption increasing less than 9% a year. Roughly 5 billion people have some type of mobile phone, but most don’t have smartphones with accompanying data plans to provide Web access.
Facebook allows 1.15 billion people to connect online monthly, but its further growth is challenged by the billions more who have no Internet access. The company has previously taken steps to provide simplified mobile access to the site in emerging economies through its Facebook Zero offering.
Through Internet.org, Facebook and its partners plan to collaborate on projects to expand access including developing cheaper, higher-quality smartphones, and improving data compression, caching and other technologies to handle data more efficiently.
Over time, Zuckerberg suggested the group could also help improve the “social infrastructure” in developing countries, noting that the lack of a credit system prevents operators from offering contracts that could help them make longer-term investments in customers.
Zuckerberg said Facebook has already spent about $1 billion on infrastructure toward bringing expanded Internet access in developing countries, with plans to spend even more.