In another move that combines surface altruism with hidden greed, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and partners Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung announced a new initiative to connect the next 5 billion people to the Internet. Staring with a rough outline and a website called Internet.org the high tech crew promises to work together to expand existing networks into areas that are not presently connected to the Internet.
There was vague talk about improving network efficiency, utilizing government and privately owned spectrum not currently being used, and a promise from Facebook to share plans for more efficient servers. Overall it’s a nice public relations move and a feel-good stunt to cover up a simple fact: These companies want more customers and since the first world is pretty well covered it’s time to conquer the third world.
Admittedly, having affordable, reliable access to the Internet can be a huge plus for a developing country in terms of education, information access, communications and business. But I’m just way too cynical to see this new initiative as anything but a concerted effort to connect more people to gain more customers. If they benefit in the process, that’s fine, but it’s not the real goal. Whether Internet access is a right or just a luxury remains to be seen as does the societal value of such access. When they do happiness surveys, many of the happiest people don’t have access to the Internet. Many have little access to technology of any sort and yet, amazingly, they’re very content.
So Mark and friends, good luck on your customer building program. And to those future customers, beware of geeks bearing gifts.
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