Facebook and a host of mobile partners are trying to promote Internet access for all through improved connectivity, mobility and devices. Is that a noble plan, or a marketing scheme in disguise, destined to fail among a world of vested interests?
Internet Around the World
While we live our happy connected lives, there are billions around the planet without reliable power, water and other essentials like very limited forms of communication. I guess the theory behind Internet.org is all that this could be fixed if they had some form of Internet and mobile access to improve their ability to interact and learn with the wider world.
While the cynics among will wonder if this is just an opportunity to hook more people up to cellphone contracts, and get them consuming Internet advertising and services? While the positive benefits could outweigh those concerns, using social networking to drive change, improve lives, increase education and so on.
Internet.org plans to do this by promoting more efficient use of mobile networks, data handling and spectrum allocation, which is a thorny issue in many countries. It also plans to help by encouraging reductions in data usage across networks and by those greedy apps. Then there's the use of education to teach people the benefits and, oh - here we go - offering free data access initially, but then building out billing infrastructure so carriers can move from pre-paid to post-paid models that facilitate investment.
Inside the .Org
Internet,org is being funded and promoted by Facebook along with partners including Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera and Qualcomm to launch Internet.org. Tying in with charities, non-profits and boots-on-the-ground organizations around the world, they will promote this initiative to get the two-thirds of the offline world on the grid. Those who aren't partnering are probably taking a look at their emerging market strategies and figuring out how this will impact their business.
Opera is probably the most interesting of these as its mobile browser promotes caching and compression to reduce the amount of data needed to show web pages. MediaTek helps make many of China's white label smartphones so could be a source of cheap devices, while Ericsson is responsible for a large part of our mobile infrastructure.
By producing a common network, with a cheap common device, they could drive change in many places. But overcoming local politics, entrenched business interests and other issues is another matter. Also, does the world really need this drive? Large parts of Africa do pretty well with basic old Nokia phones which offer banking and messaging services via SMS across clunky old mobile networks. Will a touchscreen and graphics really improve their lives?
What do you think of Internet.org and its aims? Do you know communities who would benefit, and how it could affect their lives? We'd be interested in hearing some boots-on-the-ground stories rather than the lofty ideals spouted by the rich benefactors.