Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, Samsung Form Internet.org, Aim To Connect The Two-Thirds Of The World’s Population Without Web Access

To make the world more open and connected" has been the mission statement of Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg from day one, but how can the social network and other companies and organizations be “open and connected” with the nearly two-thirds of the world’s population that still doesn’t have access to the Internet? Global partnership Internet.org -- formed by Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung -- aims to answer that question.

To make the world more open and connected” has been the mission statement of Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg from day one, but how can the social network and other companies and organizations be “open and connected” with the nearly two-thirds of the world’s population that still doesn’t have access to the Internet? Global partnership Internet.org — formed by Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung — aims to answer that question.

The seven companies will work together to develop joint projects, share knowledge, and push private industry and governments to “connect the next 5 billion” people, and Internet.org said in its introductory press release that the organization will soon welcome non-governmental organizations, academics, and other experts to its fold.

Internet.org cited the influence of the Open Compute Project, which was launched by Facebook to help lower the cost of cloud computing by devising more efficient methods of data storage.

The organization cited its three key goals in its press release:

  • Making access affordable: Partners will collaborate to develop and adopt technologies that make mobile connectivity more affordable and decrease the cost of delivering data to people worldwide. Potential projects include collaborations to develop lower-cost, higher-quality smartphones and partnerships to more broadly deploy Internet access in underserved communities. Mobile operators will play a central role in this effort by driving initiatives that benefit the entire ecosystem.
  • Using data more efficiently: Partners will invest in tools that dramatically reduce the amount of data required to use most applications and Internet experiences. Potential projects include developing data-compression tools, enhancing network capabilities to more efficiently handle data, building systems to cache data efficiently, and creating frameworks for apps to reduce data usage.
  • Helping businesses drive access: Partners will support development of sustainable new business models and services that make it easier for people to access the Internet. 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. Other efforts will focus on localizing services — working with operating system providers and other partners to enable more languages on mobile devices.

Zuckerberg announced the formation of Internet.org in a Facebook post late Tuesday night:

For nine years, we’ve been on a mission to connect the world. We now connect more than 1 billion people, but to connect the next 5 billion, we must solve a much bigger problem: The vast majority of people don’t have access to the Internet.

I’m focused on this because I think it’s one of the greatest challenges of our generation. I’ve attached a rough plan I’ve written outlining the work Facebook is doing to solve this and how our industry can work together to connect the next 5 billion people.

Zuckerberg’s post linked to a white paper titled, “Is Connectivity a Human Right?,” which discussed the challenges of bringing Internet access to those lacking it, and a “rough proposal” outlining how the seven founding companies of Internet.org and their future partners will proceed. Following are highlights from the white paper:

I’m focused on this because I believe it is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. 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 profitable for us to serve the next few billion people for a very long time, if ever. But we believe everyone deserves to be connected.

Today, only 2.7 billion people — a little more than one-third of the world’s population — have Internet access. Even more surprising, Internet adoption is growing by less than 9 percent each year, which is slow considering how early we are in its development, and that it is expected to slow further.

There are more than 5 billion mobile phones in the world, with almost 4 billion feature phones and more than 1 billion smartphones. As smartphone prices come down, many people who currently have feature phones will be able to afford smartphones over the next five years.

In many countries, the cost of a data plan is vastly more expensive than the price of a smartphone. In the U.S., for example, an iPhone with a typical two-year data plan costs about $2,000, where about $500 to $600 of that is the phone, and about $1,500 is the data.

In turn, the vast majority of the prices people pay for data plans go directly towards covering the tens of billions of dollars spent each year building the global infrastructure to deliver the internet. Unless this becomes more efficient, the industry cannot sustainably serve everyone.

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

Before the Internet and the knowledge economy, our economy was primarily industrial and resource-based. Many dynamics of resource-based economies are zero-sum. For example, if you own an oil field, then I can’t also own that same oil field. This incentivizes those with resources to hoard rather than share them. But a knowledge economy is different and encourages worldwide prosperity. It’s not zero-sum. If you know something, that doesn’t stop me from knowing it, too. In fact, the more things we all know, the better ideas, products, and services we can all offer, and the better all of our lives will be.

I think that connecting the world will be one of the most important things we all do in our lifetimes, and I’m thankful every day to have the opportunity to work with all of you to make this a reality.

The following quotes are from the press release introducing Internet.org:

Ericsson President and CEO Hans Vestberg:

For more than 100 years, Ericsson has been enabling communications for all, and today, more than 6 billion people in the world have access to mobile communications. We are committed to shaping the networked society, where everyone and everything will be connected in real-time, creating the freedom, empowerment, and opportunity to transform society. We believe affordable connectivity and Internet access improves people’s lives and helps build a more sustainable planet, and, therefore, we are excited to participate in the Internet.org initiative.

MediaTek Chairman MK Tsai:

As a world leader in mobile solutions for emerging markets, having powered more than 300 million smart devices within two years, MediaTek wholeheartedly supports the Internet.org initiative. Global Internet and social media access represent the biggest shift since the industrial revolution, and we want to make it all-inclusive.

Nokia President and CEO Stephen Elop:

Nokia is deeply passionate about connecting people — to one another and the world around them. Over the years, Nokia has connected well over 1 billion people. Our industry is now at an exciting inflection point where Internet connectivity is becoming more affordable and efficient for consumers while still offering them great experiences. Universal internet access will be the next great industrial revolution.

Opera Software CEO Lars Boilesen:

Today, more than 300 million people use Opera every month to access the Internet. Tomorrow, we have a chance to serve the next 5 billion people connecting on mobile devices in developing countries. It’s in Opera’s DNA to save people time, money, and data, and through Internet.org, we think we can help advance these goals.

Qualcomm Chairman and CEO Paul Jacobs:

Mobile has helped to transform many people’s lives in the emerging regions where often a computing device will be the first and only mobile experience they’ll ever have. Having shipped more than 11 billion chips, Qualcomm is a market leader that is committed to the goal of bridging the digital divide. We’re pleased to be a part of Internet.org and to be working with key ecosystem players to drive this initiative forward.

Samsung Electronics CEO and President, IT and Mobile Communications Division JK Shin:

This new initiative has big potential to help accelerate access to the Internet for everyone. We’re focused on delivering high-quality mobile devices to ensure that the next 5 billion people have great mobile Internet experiences.

Grameen Bank Founder and Nobel Laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus:

Extending Internet access, in an almost costless way, to the next 5 billion people is key for solving all social problems. Using the combined power of technology and social business will enable any individual anywhere in the planet to change the world in the fastest possible time. Internet.org will help transform a small piece of solution of a giant problem, in one unknown location, into a global solution. Human creative power is superior enough to overcome all human problems, including putting poverty into museums. Let’s unleash this power now.

Center for Global Development President Nancy Birdsall:

I welcome the creation of Internet.org. The evidence is clear that connectivity increases economic opportunities and empowers people both politically and socially.

Readers: What are your initial thoughts on Internet.org?

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.