Facebook pushes for developing world to get online

The Facebook website. The social networking site's CEO Mark Zuckerberg aims to expand Internet access in the developing world. Photo by: Acid Pix / CC BY

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Wednesday a worldwide partnership to expand Internet access in the developing world by making it cheaper to get online through smartphones.

“I believe connectivity is a human right, and that if we work together we can make it a reality,” Zuckerberg said in a statement to mark the unveiling of www.internet.org.

Facebook’s partners in the initiative are mobile phone manufacturers Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson, Qualcomm, semiconductor giant MediaTek and Norwegian software company Opea, while social networking platforms Twitter and LinkedIn are also expected to join.

Despite living in the so-called digital age, today only 2.7 billion people — a third of the world’s population — has regular access to Internet, and the number of new users is growing too slowly to close the gap. The campaign wants to address this  by developing joint projects, sharing knowledge, and rallying governments and the industry to get everyone online.

So how does this translate into action in most countries in Africa, where land-based connections are either extremely slow or so expensive that most citizens cannot afford them?

Facebook wants to redesign mobile apps and improve networks to make them more efficient when connecting to the web, as well as developing low-cost phones and operators in developing nations, where there — some netizens mentioned — is also a vast untapped market for these mobile phone services.

On social media, some users commended Zuckerberg for the campaign. For instance, @kurtis_elliott1 said on Twitter that bringing low-cost Internet to developing countries can be a “win” for these economies, while @dfutoryan commented: “Get ready for friend requests from the developing world.”

Other netizens were more suspicious of the real motives behind the initiative. “One nation, under Facebook, with data on developing markets for sale to all,” wrote @alifeincolor; @YinkaRose and @binhnyc pointed out that food, education and healthcare are more urgent needs than getting online for the Third World.

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    Carlos Santamaria

    As associate editor for breaking news, Carlos Santamaria supervises Devex's Manila-based news team and the creation of our daily newsletter. Carlos joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.