Mission: 4.2 Billion

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg takes on the arduous task of providing an affordable internet plan to the 4 billion people in the world who don’t have access to the internet.

Joseph Rivas, Columnist

Last year, the United Nations released the results of a global study on how much of the world remains unconnected to the internet. The outcome revealed that a shocking 60 percent will remain unconnected through the end of 2014, which amounts to 4.2 billion people not having internet access out of a total of 7.3 billion people living on earth.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wants to bring universal internet access to the over four billion people who have little to no internet access. Zuckerberg plans to do this through Internet.org, an initiative led by Facebook with the help of numerous tech companies, in an effort to provide free services such as news, health information, and a text-only version of Facebook to places like India through a service named Free Basics.

Despite the noble ambition, Zuckerberg has run into many issues with bringing his service to India. The success of the initiative relies on selling the service in the villages that need it, and Internet.org’s plan is to have one authorized seller per village. They say that this model worked for satellite TV and landline telephone with the idea being that by having only one per village the seller would have a greater incentive to sell more subscriptions. The problem is that the merchants selling this also sell other products they make more money off of, making the motivation to sell Free Basics very little.

An additional glaring issue halting the adoption of Internet.org is that few know about its existence or what it is and those who do see no reason to be a part of it. Contrary to its claim of providing “free internet,” it still costs money to do things such as viewing photos. Free Basics is not free and that’s a serious problem as it nullifies any advantages it may have over any of its competitors.

Another criticism marring the whole operation is that Internet.org is not net neutral. Some compare it to a walled garden: through the service you may only access certain websites that are chosen by Facebook. This gives the end customer access to a small fraction of internetworked websites and not the internet. While this may not be an issue for those who are completely new to the internet, which Internet.org has said they are marketing to, it’s an issue that conflicts with Zuckerberg’s altruistic claims. Their decision to limit access to only what they approve and what benefits Facebook has led to many people in India standing against Internet.org.

Whether the service will take off or not is still unclear, but the potential behind it is ultimately the biggest takeaway from the whole initiative. It has brought to light an apparent inequality in regards to internet access around the world, but if Internet.org does this right, it could lead to a massive shift for the better.