For 18 months now, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has been championing the social network’s Internet.org movement to raise economic fortunes across the Earth by making the internet available to everyone.
The project involves a number of other tech firms, including Samsung, Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Nokia, and seeks to bring the web to the two-thirds of the world’s population that Facebook says can’t get online, by removing the numerous barriers. These include the cost of devices and service plans, lack of mobile networks, and lack of power sources.
In a new interview with Bloomberg, the 30-year-old spoke at length about the initiative, asserting that connecting the world will provide entire populations with better access to jobs, education and communications.
“We have the opportunity to bring the people we care about closer to us. It really makes a big difference,” Zuckerberg told Bloomberg’s Emily Chang.
“The internet is how we connect to the modern world, but today, unfortunately, only a little more than a third of people have access to the internet at all. It’s about 2.7bn people, and that means two-thirds of people don’t have any access to the internet. So that seems really off to me.”
Facebook’s high-flying drones
To overcome the barrier of connecting people in areas with no network access, Facebook has been involved in a number of schemes, including the possibility of sending up solar-powered flying drones into the sky that will cruise at between 60,000 feet to 90,000 feet to avoid airspace.
Asked about the possibility of drones and lasers being launched skyward, Zuckerberg revealed the hardware is almost ready for testing, but did not give an exact date of when that might begin.
“But that’s one of the big technical barriers, right? There are a lot of people who don’t live within range of a network, and drones and satellites and communications lasers is one way to do it. Microwave communication is another.”
Since the initiative’s launch, critics have questioned the motives behind Internet.org, theorising Facebook may use it as an opportunity to increase its advertising business. Zuckerberg, however, has claimed that is not part of the Internet.org agenda.
“I’m not sure it’s a big part of the solution in the near term, to be honest. What we need to do is work out a model with operators and governments and local partners that is profitable for them so we can continue growing the internet.”
Additionally, he also stated that getting Facebook back into China – where it’s currently banned – was not a goal.
“That’s not something that we are focused on right now with Internet.org. There are countries where they reach out to us and say, ‘Connectivity is a national priority, and a lot of people in our country use Facebook – and if there is a way to work together to do that …’
“For example, Malaysia – I was meeting with one of the leaders in the government there. Making it so that everyone in their country is connected is one of the top national priorities, similar to Indonesia. It makes sense that we prioritise countries that are reaching out to us actively for this.”