Can Facebook Get Free internet or Cheap Internet Access to the World?

Free Internet

If you have watched the movie The Social Network, a partly fictionalized account of Facebook's origins and co-founder / CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others, then you know he is known for a number of youthful antics from his college days. Throw in some of the controversy around Facebook in recent years about privacy settings and you have fodder for conversations that suggest he is immature, and that he does not care about users.

Whether any of that is true or not, the Internet Organization initiative will tell us truth.

The initiative's goal is to bring Internet access to the rest of the world, amongst other related purposes. While Facebook stands to benefit immensely if a few billion more people join, they also get to be known as the champion that got the whole world connected. This shows Zuckerberg's growth as a benefactor. In fact, towards the Internet Organization initiative, Facebook announced that they have spent $19B on buying WhatsApp, makers of the popular messaging app of the same name. How does that factor in?

Facebook’s Internet Organization Initiative: By the Numbers

Facebook and several partners (Facebook, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia, Opera, MediaTek) announced the Internet Organization initiative with the goal of connecting another 5B people via affordable or even free Internet access.

  • At present, 6B people have access to mobile communications.
  • Only 2.7B people (just over 1/3 of the population) have Internet access.
  • 9% is the yearly adoption rate of the Internet - which is considered to be slow.
  • Internet.org's goal is to make Internet access affordable to the other 2/3 of the population not yet connected.
  • 1.23B people use Facebook
  • Even where access is available, mobile devices and cellular plans are currently expensive; content is not in the local language; and sometimes the infrastructure cannot handle increased usage. All are factors limiting Internet access for much of the 5B the initiative is trying to reach.
  • The world is become a knowledge economy. So the Internet is important for learning, for staying aware even of tomorrow's weather, for understanding an illness and being able to seek aid, for finding work, staying in touch with friends across distances, and much more.
  • The Internet has to be 100 times more affordable to achieve the goals of the Internet.org initiative.

A Collaborative Effort

Founding members will work on "joint projects, share knowledge, and mobilize industry and governments to bring the world online." Each of these companies have worked with mobile operators, who in turn are expected to "play leading roles." Later, NGOs, academics and experts are expected to be involved. These are some of the goals of the initiative:

  • Making Internet access affordable. The intent is to develop and offer lower-cost yet high-quality smartphones, and to form partnerships to with mobile operators and others to deploy Internet in communities with no or limited access.
  • The former will require building low-cost, open source hardware for more affordable devices. The latter will require building out the infrastructure, using network extension technology to reduce the number of cell towers that need to be built, cleaning up the airwaves to use spectrum more efficiently.
  • Using data more efficiently: This includes investment in tools that reduce data requirements for apps, thereby reducing the cost of cellular data service plans. Efforts will involve data compression tools, efficient networks, better data caching.

Helping businesses drive access. This involves several related goals:

  • Developing new business models and services for easier Internet access that are sustainable.
  • Aligning incentives for various providers, including mobile operators, device manufacturers, and other businesses while providing more affordable access.
  • Local services and enable more languages on devices.

Why Connect the World?

Connect The World
  • Over the previous period, having Internet access contribute to 21% of the GDP growth in developed countries. This is more than what the agriculture and utility industries contribute individually, and it adds more jobs
  • Over the previous 15 year period, having Internet access contributed 10% of the GDP growth of these countries. This provoked the question of whether having Internet access is a human right. It is not, at the moment, but that is part of the initiative's goal.

How Will They Achieve These Goals?

In the Internet.org initiative's own white paper, Facebook discusses what they have been doing with their mobile app that will help, as well what else needs to be done:

  • Building mobile apps that use less data and power.
  • Facebook "believes it is possible to build infrastructure that will sustainably provide free access to basic Internet services in a way that enables everyone with a phone to connect to the Internet." They have already built an efficient infrastructure in connecting over a billion users
  • 1MB per day average daily consumption of data is their goal for the Android version of their mobile app, reducing from the current average of about 12MB
  • 10 PB (Petabytes) per day is how much Facebook's infrastructure currently handles. 1 PB = 1,000 TB (Terabytes) = 1 billion GB (Gigabytes).

Facebook has developed some tools to get around some mobile data issues, especially when it comes to Android fragmentation. The tools and techniques include:

  • Using their Air Traffic Control - mimics cellular network connections and congestion's, which lets them test their mobile app's behavior on handsets in, for example, India.
  • Pre-fetching and WebP - uses the Google-defined WebP image standard and caches Facebook user photos - a popular feature - to control data use. The WebP standard alone help saves 20% on bandwidth.
  • Prioritizing Wi-Fi - involves trying to ensure Wi-Fi use is prioritized, both for reducing data usage and battery consumption - especially for pre-fetching content.
  • Tuning the Facebook app for different handsets - which involves working with chip makers to ensure optimal app performance using less power. For phones with SD cards, pre-fetched content is saved there instead of internal storage.
  • Fine-tuning wake cycles for phones – which involves using custom wake-up periods that are based on handset and network, in order to keep the power consumption down for a device wake up and retrieving a new story item.

When Does the Internet Organization Initiative Get Started?

Social Media Shout

Mark Zuckerberg pointing out many of the benefits of the Internet.org initiative, as well as some of the other initiatives in which Facebook is involved:

  • 140M new jobs would be created.
  • 160M people would be lifted out of poverty.
  • 2.5M lives would be saved by giving people access to health care information.
  • 7% is the possible drop in child mortality rates.
  • 640M children would have affordable access to learning tools and resources.
  • Another Facebook initiative with Unilever in India - where only 13% of the population is connected - will study the benefit of Internet access in rural communities.

Internet Organization is a huge initiative and there are big hurdles to be leaped – such as dealing with non-capitalistic or corrupt governments, as well as having cellular carriers onboard, building out infrastructure and more. However, it is a noble effort and shows a maturing Mark Zuckerberg, even if Facebook ultimately stands to benefit from having more users. The Internet has arguably brought many more positives than negatives, and can do the same for other countries, for more people. Short of an asteroid hitting the Earth, the Internet is not going away, and life has changed as a result - often for the good. More people being connected online is a good thing for the world as a whole.


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