One of the main factors curtailing Facebook's growth is the number of people who currently have access to the Internet. That—and his vision for connecting the *entire* world with his social network—is why CEO Mark Zuckerberg Tuesday night announced the launch of internet.org, what Facebook calls "a global partnership with the goal of making Internet access available to the next 5 billion people."
On his Facebook page Zuckerberg asks the question "Is connectivity a human right?" He links to a ten page manifesto of sorts on the topic—explaining his plan, discussing the state of Internet access, and explaining why he's so invested.
He writes: "1.15 billion people each month, but as we started thinking about connecting the next 5 billion, we realized something important: the vast majority of people in the world don't have access to the Internet. Today, only 2.7 billion people are online—a little more than one third of the world. That is growing by less than 9 percent a year, but that's slow considering how early we are in the Internet's development."
Zuckerberg volunteers the fact that Facebook has already invested more than $1 billion to "connect people in the developing world over the past few years, and we plan to do more." Pointing to the fact that the Internet now accounts for a larger percentage of GDP in many developed countries than agriculture and energy, he says flat-out that the Internet creates jobs.
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The CEO doesn't directly connect this initiative and Facebook's business potential, but it's pretty clear. For Facebook to maintain its growth trajectory, it needs a bigger audience of people with Internet access—either through the desktop, or increasingly through mobile devices.
The social network finished the second quarter with 1.15 billion monthly active users, up 21 percent from the prior year. In order to maintain that kind of growth—or the 27 percent growth it saw in daily active users in the second quarter, to 699 million people, the company simply needs a bigger pool to draw from.
On this project of expanding Internet access Facebook is collaborating with Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung, with plans to bring in "NGOs, academics, and experts" as well. These founding members of the organization "will develop joint projects, share knowledge, and mobilize industry and governments to bring the world online."
It's no surprise, that the companies are honing in on mobile Internet access. There are three key areas of focus:
1) Making access affordable, including collaborating to lower the cost of high-quality smartphones, and work with mobile operators to bring down costs.
2) Using data more efficiently, by creating tools to compress data and allow networks to better handle large amounts of data. He says if the cost of data is managed "it will be possible to enable the most people to get on the Internet while also sustainably generating the most profits for the industry."
3) And lastly, the initiative clarifies that it's not looking for handouts from companies, but rather wants to develop "sustainable new business models and services." The idea is to align the incentives for "mobile operators, devices manufacturers, developers, and other businesses."
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This isn't Facebook's first attempt in this arena—two years ago Facebook launched the "Open Compute Project" to make data centers more efficient. The social network shares its efficient and effective server and data center designs with other companies, and as it's brought other companies into the coalition, they're sharing their ideas, as well.
And with "Facebook for every phone"—a version of Facebook for "feature," or so-called "dumb phones," the company has been working on getting Facebook access efficiently to low-cost phones with less data use.
And this Facebook-led coalition isn't the first to look to lower the cost of entry for a new potential audience: Twitter has deals with mobile phone companies, in many cases offering free Twitter access—wanting to make sure that it's easy to use on the least expensive phones. Google, which is working on the potential to offer Internet access from floating balloons, has a program to offer some developing countries' users free access to its services such as Gmail and search.
All the founding partner companies are quoted in the release, the quotes indicating the value that the company will get from the expansion of Internet access. Nokia's CEO Stephen Elop calls universal Internet access "the next great industrial revolution." Qualcomm's CEO Paul Jacobs is quoted saying: "Having shipped more than 11 billion chips, Qualcomm is a market leader that is committed to the goal of bridging the digital divide."