Facebook, Opera, Qualcomm, Samsung and others said Tuesday night that they're setting out on a quest to bring the Internet to remainder of the world that doesn't yet have access.
The ambitious goal has been laid out on Internet.org, the Web site Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, formed with its partners to make the vision a reality. So far, however, the vision is just that: a set of ambitious goals with no real timeline to accomplishing it, and a basic roadmap for how to get there.
The partners include Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, Samsung, and other, future partners. The goal is to make Internet access more affordable, in part by reducing the cost of data access, while also encouraging businesses to adopt the Internet as well.
"Everything Facebook has done has been about giving all people around the world the power to connect," Zuckerberg said in a statement released Tuesday night. "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."
Googe's Project Loon is designed to connect rural areas with Internet access.
Internet opinion will likely be split on the the new initiative, with some lauding it for its goals. On one hand, connectivity has helped foster early attempts at democracy in the Middle East and China, allowing those like-minded individuals to collect online and work to enable change.
On the other, ambitious efforts to bring Internet access to underserved areas, through projects like Google's Project Loon, have been met with skepticism, if not scorn, by men like Bill Gates. Gates and his wife, Melinda, have dedicated enormous sums of money to improving living conditions in the Third World. Recently, Gates was quoted criticizing Project Loon: "When you're dying of malaria, I suppose you'll look up and see that balloon, and I'm not sure how it'll help you," Gates said, according to the interview.
And, of course, connecting the rest of the world would imply that at least some of those connected would join Facebook. It's also easy to see how some of Internet.org's partners might be attracted to the notion; at present, for example, Samsung is the world's largest smartphone provider. MediaTek has been instrumental in developing inexpensive application processors. And Opera's Opera Mobile technology can compress Web pages, saving data.
The Internet.org backers intend to use the Open Compute Project as a guide. For its part, the OCP has been a disruptive partnership that basically works to take as much cost out of the server market as possible through collaboration and shared engineering. That's benefited companies like Facebook while also putting pressure on server makers to find other, differentiating technologies. The same pressure now could be applied to wireless carriers, as well as open-sourcing a low-cost, wireless handset for the Third World.
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