In summer of 2013, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg launched internet.org, an attempt to reach out to the 4.9 billion people (nearly two thirds of the global population) who weren’t using the internet.
Although most people are physically capable of accessing the internet, many people either can’t afford internet service or aren’t all that enthusiastic about integrating the internet into their lives. Of the 4.9 unconnected people in 2013, only ten to fifteen percent of them are missing out on internet purely due to a lack of infrastructure.
Zuckerberg’s internet.org program sought to make the internet easy and free to use for that huge portion of the population. It began when Facebook starting negotiating with major phone carriers around the world, eventually coming to agreements that allowed for over 300 basic web services (including Facebook) to be available to the carriers’ clientele for no extra cost to the consumer.
Facebook also began utilizing a research and development team called the Connectivity Lab, which thought up new methods to provide internet service. These methods involve everything from lasers and drones to artificial intelligence. According to the CL, the technology will be open-sourced once developed so that others can commercialize it too, allowing for internet access to proliferate even further.
Of course, not everyone believes that internet.org is the humanitarian effort that Zuckerberg claims it is meant to be. People believe that he is acting as a colonist in the digital universe and perhaps even overstepping boundaries between corporate and government efforts to provide service.
Zuckerberg has been quick to equip himself against these kinds of arguments by traveling the world constantly, meeting with important leaders and diplomats, and reading up on nation-building. More generally, he claims to consider connecting people to be his life’s work, perhaps framing his actions even more widely than either a philanthropic endeavor or a business initiative. Actually, that would just be an even more honorable philanthropic endeavor.
Zuckerberg claims that the internet’s growth is actually slowing over time, and that it won’t spread itself. He claims that only he is equipped in his efforts to spread the internet to the very poor populations that are not an adequate market for more corporate service providers.
“There’s no way we can draw a plan about why we’re going to invest billions of dollars in getting mostly poor people online,” he told one reported for Wired. “But at some level, we believe that this is what we’re here to do, and we think it’s going to be good, and if we go it, some of that value will come back to us.”
Now that we’re smack at the beginning of 2016, Zuckerberg has claimed that the Connectivity Lab’s progress is among his top three priorities for the year. He opes to launch a satellite above sub-Saharan Africa before 2017 rolls around, and he’s about to begin testing his internet-service-providing drones.
“Access to the Internet is a fundamental challenge of our time,” he asserted. Regardless of speculations as to his intentions, perhaps Zuckerberg has found a population that could benefit from his work.