Facebook's Zuckerberg Envisions a 'Dial Tone for the Internet'

Calling it an 'on-ramp to the Internet,' Mark Zuckerberg advocates for carriers and other gatekeepers to provide free basic services for all in his first-ever keynote at Mobile World Congress.

Tue, February 25, 2014

CIO — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's keynote at Mobile World Congress fittingly began and ended with the topic fresh on everyone's minds: the company's $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp.

In calling it "the most engaging app that we've ever seen exist on mobile so far," Zuckerberg says the deal didn't come together until he and WhatsApp's co-founder and CEO Jan Koum talked about their shared vision for connecting every person to the Internet.

"It's easy to take for granted that most people in the world don't have access to the Internet at all," he says. "We're not really on a path to connect everyone unless something pretty dramatic changes."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg smiles before delivering a keynote speech during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Albert Gea.

Facebook and its partners in the Internet.org alliance are committed to the simple vision that "some day someone should try and help connect everyone in the world," he says, but Zuckerberg is also quick to add that "we're probably going to lose money on this for quite a while."

Connecting the Planet

As much as 80 percent of the world's population already live in an area where 2G or 3G wireless access is available, he says. "The most expensive part about owning a smartphone and being connected to the Internet isn't the smartphone, it's the data connection."

While cost is a major impediment to more widespread Internet adoption, Facebook and its partners face an even bigger task in convincing potential users why they should pay for access in the first place. Connectivity in and of itself is not the goal, but rather a means to an end, Zuckerberg says. He calls upon numerous studies that suggest access to upward mobility, higher education, improved health and other positive outcomes typically flow as a result of online access.

"Look, after buying a company for $16 billion, you're probably done for a while."
-- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg says Internet.org wants to create a "dial tone for the Internet," comparing the basic level of free service he envisions to 9-1-1 emergency services in the United States. "There's a set of basic service that we think should exist, whether it's messaging, or being able to know what the weather is. These are just basic services that people should be able to access," he adds. "They're all text-based, incredibly low-bandwidth and cheap to serve."

A Dial Tone for the Internet

He calls it the "on-ramp to the Internet," and advocates for deep involvement from carriers, developers, providers, nongovernmental organizations and all others that have a vested interest in greater connectivity around the globe. Gaining favor from wireless carriers and network access providers that hold the keys to connectivity could prove to be the biggest challenge for Internet.org's backers.

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