Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced a new tech-industry alliance that will work to cut the cost of delivering mobile Internet access to the billions around the world who have no way of getting online.
“I’m focused on this because I think it’s one of the greatest challenges of our generation,” the 29-year-old CEO wrote on his personal Facebook page, where he outlined plans for an industrywide effort aimed at lowering the cost of smartphone service and tackling other business and technical hurdles that stand in the way of delivering Internet access in less developed parts of the world.
Other members of the coalition include mobile-phone manufacturers Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung, as well as chip-maker Qualcomm and mobile-browser company Opera.
The announcement is the latest move by the young tech mogul to establish a leadership role on issues beyond Silicon Valley, after Zuckerberg’s earlier effort this year to form an alliance of Internet industry leaders who hope to influence the debate over immigration and other public-policy issues in Washington, D.C.
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It’s not clear how effective the new effort will be. While the new coalition, dubbed Internet.org, includes some powerful companies besides Facebook, its founding members notably do not include any other major Silicon Valley-based corporations. Other tech giants, notably Google, have pursued their own efforts to expand Internet access in underserved parts of the globe.
Those efforts, like the new organization announced by Zuckerberg, are a mix of altruism and aggressive business strategy.
The Facebook CEO’s announcement was accompanied by a lengthy position paper and laudatory quotes from authorities on global development including Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel-winning economist who is credited with pioneering the concept of microfinance to encourage Third World development.
“Extending Internet access, in an almost costless way, to the next 5 billion people is key for solving all social problems,” Yunus said in a statement released by Facebook.
Expanding access to undeveloped countries will be good business for a variety of companies, including Facebook, Zuckerberg acknowledged in a position paper he posted on his Facebook page.
Zuckerberg stressed that, “Everyone will benefit from the increased knowledge, experience and progress we make from having everyone connected to the Internet.”
In a separate statement released by Facebook, organizers of the new coalition said they will focus on three goals.
The first is collaborating on developing technologies that will make mobile connectivity less expensive, through such efforts as building lower-cost smartphones.
A second goal involves building new tools to make networks operate more efficiently and reduce the amount of data needed to run Internet apps and services, so they can be provided online at a lower cost.
The third calls for creating “sustainable new business models” that provide financial incentives for mobile-telecommunications operators to provide services.
In a statement, the organization said it hopes to enlist other tech companies, as well as experts from the nonprofit and academic world.
It also said it was influenced by the success of the Open Compute Project, an industrywide effort in which Facebook and other companies have shared information about new hardware designs in order to encourage the development of more energy-efficient data centers.