Mark Zuckerberg’s newest campaign, Internet.org, is aimed at delivering Internet access to the 5 billion individuals around the world who presently don’t have it, specifically by means of granting more affordable or free internet access to a rapidly growing number of cell phone users. John Griffin, in his CNN Money article, “Mark Zuckerberg’s Big Idea: The ‘Next 5 Billion’ People”, goes to say that Zuckerberg has invested a total of $1 billion into the project so far, with hopes to “do a lot more”.
But is Internet access for the rest of the global community a top priority? Is that where we, or more specifically Zuckerberg, should be sending billions of dollars? Certainly there is much to gain from widespread Internet access, as we have learned in developed and developing countries throughout the world where it has changed almost every aspect of day-to-day life forever, but will it have the same affect elsewhere?
The article goes to say that countries such as Eritrea, East Timor, and Burma have minimal Internet access at 0.8%, 0.9%, and 1.1% of the population, respectively. That said, these are also countries with massive amounts of their populations lying well below the international poverty threshold of $1.25 in total earnings per day; with Eritrea posting a poverty level of 50%, East Timor 41%, and Burma 32.7% of the total population, according to the CIA’s ‘The World Fact Book’. Without even earning the minimum utility one needs to put a roof over one’s head and food on the table, it is hard to imagine a period of time in the day where some of the world’s poorest populations would be able to kick their feet up, surf the web in any capacity, let alone join Facebook, which currently boasts one billion users.
Perhaps there are more pressing international matters that billions of dollars would better serve. Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft and Co-Chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was quoted in a recent interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek as saying, “When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no Web site that relieves that”.
Perhaps Zuckerberg’s initiative follows tech companies’ demands for new markets outside of the already-saturated American and European markets, or maybe Internet.org is an altruistic attempt to bring an unprecedented level of connectivity to the rest of the world. It is a fascinating prospect to wonder what the type of opportunities would exist were Internet adoption and usability around the world to triple or even quadruple. Unfortunately, for the poorest of the world’s populations, they may be better served with basic healthcare before they are granted the ability to successfully login to Facebook.