Internet.org: Altruistic, or the Ultimate in Cynicism?

What this place clearly needs is more Facebook, stat.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to bring the Internet to every human being on the planet.

In conjunction with a variety of partners (including Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung), Facebook is launching Internet.org, which will try to make Internet access more affordable to more people. The partnership will also work on ways to lower the amount of data necessary to power most apps and Internet experiences, which could help people in areas with poor connectivity access online services.

In addition, the partners will “support development of sustainable new business models and services that make it easier for people to access the Internet,” according to a press release (PDF) posted on the new Internet.org Website (which also features a short video designed for maximum uplift, complete with a clip of John F. Kennedy speaking). In other words, the partnership would devise incentives for businesses and manufacturers to offer customers more affordable access, as well as expand the number of languages in use for many Web services.

“There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy,” Zuckerberg wrote in a statement. “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.”

Why would Facebook and its partners want to connect another 5 billion people to the Internet? Sure, there are altruistic reasons—people online can access information that will improve or even save their lives. But for Facebook, more people online equals more ad revenue, which equals more profit. Social networking in the developed world is reaching a saturation point, with a significant percentage of the population already on one (or more) social networks; only by expanding into developing nations can Facebook and its ilk maintain the growth rates that Wall Street demands.

In a similar vein, building devices and services accessible via weaker Internet connections would open up a whole new customer base for the app developers and manufacturers of the world. In theory, Internet.org plans on enlisting a variety of nonprofits and “experts” to help in its effort; but the initial announcement only lists for-profit companies among its constituency. NGOs, academics and the aforementioned experts will apparently arrive “over time.”

Facebook isn’t the only Web giant trying to bring the Internet to the developing world. Google has floated the idea (pun intended) of blimps that could transmit wireless signals for hundreds of square miles, which could bring the Internet to areas that lack on-the-ground infrastructure.

 

Image: Lakeview images/Shutterstock.com

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