Facebook's Zuckerberg wants to connect the rest of the world

Initiative aims to bring Internet access to the two-thirds of the world that's still unconnected

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is launching a global initiative to try to speed the delivery of Internet access to the two-thirds of the world that are not yet connected.

Facebook announced late Tuesday that Zuckerberg is working with a team of technology companies -- Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung - on a project called internet.org. The goal is to make Internet access available to the 5 billion people who don't have it.

Today, 2.7 billion people, or about one-third of the world's population, have Internet access, according to figures provided by Facebook. Internet adoption is growing by less than 9% each year.

"Everything Facebook has done has been about giving all people around the world the power to connect," Zuckerberg said in a written statement. "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, including making Internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it."

According to Facebook, the initiative will focus on three areas in developing countries:

  • Developing technologies, such as cheaper, higher-quality smartphones, that will make mobile connectivity more affordable;
  • Investing in tools, for enhancing network capabilities and for data compression, that greatly reduce the amount of data required to use most apps and websites;
  • Developing new business models and services that make it easier for people to access the Internet.

Facebook did not say how long the project would nor were any specific plans announced that are underway.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said he understands the lack of a plan at the outset of the project. "You start with a goal then develop a plan to execute," he said early Wednesday. "They'd be wise to prioritize by cost and value to optimize available resources."

He added that the group has a big job ahead of it. "Thinking this through won't be trivial, and the clock is ticking," Enderle said.

Facebook took another step to grab the attention of emerging markets earlier this summer when the social network reported that it already had more than 100 million monthly users for its new Facebook For Every Phone, a streamlined app for non-smartphones.

The app was designed to work on more than 3,000 feature phones, low-end cell phones that don't have the compute power of smartphones

Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, a Bangladesh-based Nobel Peace Prize-winning microfinance bank that gives small loans to the poor, said extending Internet access could solve a myriad of 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," Yunus in a statement. "Human creative power is superior enough to overcome all human problems, including putting poverty into museums."

This is not Zuckerberg's first effort in standing behind a cause. Nearly three years ago, Zuckerberg made international headlines when he donated $100 million to help the struggling school system in Newark, N.J.

Earlier this year, he formed a group of technology luminaries focused on starting an advocacy group to study the issues of immigration and education, including border security and a path to citizenship, along with higher school standards and support for teachers.

This article, Facebooks Zuckerberg wants to connect rest of the world, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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