Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he's OK with losing money on Internet.org, that the company could pick up another 1 billion users by 2020 and he would consider working with Google to extend Internet connectivity around the world.
In an interview on Bloomberg Television's Studio 1.0 scheduled to air tonight, (The episode will be live streamed at 8:30 ET), Zuckerberg addressed Facebook's efforts to bring the Internet to the two-thirds of the world's population not yet connected.
"When people are connected, we can just do some great things," Zuckerberg said. "There are all these studies that show that in developing countries, more than 20% of GDP growth is driven by the Internet. There have been studies that show if we connected a billion more people to the Internet, 100 million more jobs would be created, and more than that would be lifted out of poverty."
Internet connectivity should be a right and not a privilege, he said.
"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," he told Bloomberg. "Connectivity just can't be a privilege for people in the richest countries. We believe that connecting everyone in the world is one of the great challenges of our generation, and that's why we are happy to play whatever small part in that that we can."
While connecting billions more people to the Internet would affect worldwide education, communication and economics, it also would bring more people into Facebook's user base.
When asked if Facebook could double its user base by adding another billion people by 2020, Zuckerberg responded, "We'll see. I think so."
Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said expanding Internet connectivity around the world would be key to making that happen for what is already the world's largest social network.
"More connectivity is very important -- more for Facebook than for anyone else," Gottheil told Computerworld. "The more people connected, the more valuable Facebook is. Don't you think people from Indonesia, the Philippines, Zambia, or Kenya who have moved to developed countries will use Facebook more if they can connect with people back home?"
So how does Facebook plan on making that happen? Like Google, Facebook is looking for new technologies that will bring connectivity to remote and impoverished areas of the world.
The project includes developing inexpensive smartphones, enhancing network capabilities and creating new connectivity services, and Zuckeberg conceded "we’ll probably lose a bunch of money."
"We probably won’t offset it by making much," he said. "But there’s this mission belief that connecting the world is really important, and that is something that we want to do."
Facebook isn't alone in its efforts. Online rival Google last year bought solar-powered drone maker Titan Aerospace in an effort to find an innovative ways to bring online access to those unconnected. Google also is testing high-altitude balloons to deliver Internet access.
In his interview with Bloomberg, Zuckerberg said he's open to working with Google in their efforts.
"Yeah, our team is in contact with them frequently, and I talk to a number of folks over there," he said. "When we launched in Zambia, Google was actually one of the services that was in the Internet.org suite, and that's valuable. In addition to health services and education, jobs and different government services and communication tools, people need to be able to search and find information.
"And whether we work with Google or others on that in all of these other countries, I think that is an important thing," he added. "I'd love to work with Google. They are a great search product."
He also noted that Facebook is working on using drones, satellites and communications lasers for connectivity.