September 26, 2015
Most people in emerging and developing countries see the Internet as a good thing when it comes to education and the economy. And so do giants of our technological age such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.
Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, spoke at the United Nations on Saturday to issue a call for universal Internet access. In addition to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he is supported by Bono, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Shakira, George Takei, Charlize Theron and Jimmy Wales.
By giving people access to the tools, knowledge and opportunities of the Internet, we can give a voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. We also know that the internet is a vital enabler of jobs, growth and opportunity. And research tells us that for every 10 people connected to the Internet, about one is lifted out of poverty.
Facebook created Internet.org, a service that provides free access to the Internet. After complaints about limitations, Facebook has rebranded its effort as Free Basics and made it more flexible for third-party developers to join in.
In countries where data is expensive and money to pay for it is scarce, this seems like a good deal. Limited access is better than none.
“If someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all,” Zuckerberg says.
With one billion people already using Facebook every day, cynics might say this is a scheme to add another billion. Maybe. But Zuckerberg has plenty of company to keep him honest.
For example, Facebook is one of the signatories to Connect the World, an online petition you can sign to support Internet for all. It promotes one of 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
It’s easy to be cynical about the Internet. As a reflection of humanity, it definitely has a dark side. But for most people in the world, the Internet is seen as a way of pulling themselves out of poverty. And that’s something worth getting behind.