GLOBAL ECONOMY

Facebook's Internet.Org Hopes To Give Billions Worldwide Internet Access

Facebook and some of the world's largest mobile technology companies announced a partnership called Internet.org on Wednesday to help two-thirds of the world's population get Internet access.

The effort highlights the world's digital divide and the Internet growth potential in Latino communities worldwide.

Facebook wants to get more of the world’s 7 billion people online through a partnership with Samsung, Nokia, Qualcomm and Ericsson and other large mobile technology companies. The goal, the company says, is to ‘‘make Internet access available to the two-thirds of the world who are not yet connected.’’

"By reducing the cost and amount of data required for most apps and enabling new business models, Internet.org is focused on enabling the next 4 billion people to come online," Facebook said in a statement.

The group’s plans include developing cheaper smartphones and using mobile data more efficiently.

The plans are especially pertinent to Latin America and Latinos in the United States. Latin America has the fastest growing Internet market in the world, having increased 12 percent in the past year to more than 147 million unique visitors in March 2013, according to a Comscore report entitled '2013 Latin America Digital Future in Focus.' In the past 12 months, people in Latin America spent the majority of their online time, 10 hours a month, on social media networks — double the global average of time spent online on social media networks. 

Not surprisingly, 5 of the top 10 most engaged markets with social content worldwide are located in Latin America.

The so-called digital divide is not just limited to developing nations. A White House Report issued in June showed disproportionate access to broadband Internet in the United States, the difference is especially noticeable in the country's Latino communities.

Citing cost and skill level, according to the report, Asians (81%) and Whites (74%) have adopted broadband at home to a greater extent than Hispanics (56%) and African Americans (55%). 

"There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement. "Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making Internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it."

Javier Olivan, vice president of growth and analytics at Facebook, said the move continues what the company has already been doing to get more people online. This includes "Facebook For Every Phone," an app that launched in 2011 to let people with simple, non-smartphones use Facebook.

Facebook is not the only Internet giant attempting to close the world wide digital divide. Google's Project Loon sends up giant balloons across the globe to beam down Internet access, 3G or faster.

But Microsoft Founder Bill Gates lampooned these efforts as noble ideas – but not necessarily priorities.

"When you're dying of malaria, I suppose you'll look up and see that balloon, and I'm not sure how it'll help you," Gates, who is founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said during an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. "When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there's no website that relieves that…"

The computer mogul and philanthropist said he was a big believer in the digital revolution – but very poor countries have more pressing matters to address.

"…Connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things," he said. "But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we're going to do something about malaria."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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