Who’s connected, who’s not and why? (A state of Connectivity: 2014)
30 November 2015
“Knowledge is the ultimate economic renewable” and Facebook are attempting to harness the power of technology whilst furthering their reputation as pioneers in this space to “take connectivity to the next level”. The online social networking service have been leading an initiative known as ‘internet.org’ to connect the 2/3rds of the world without internet access. Alongside Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm, Facebook intend on removing what they deem to be the 3 barriers to people being online – infrastructure, affordability and relevance.
Internet penetration rates have risen dramatically in recent years, yet we still have such a disparity in rates of connection between MED (more economically developed) and LEDC’s (less economically developed countries), most likely the result of costing - with a basic fixed line broadband costing approximately 33% of monthly income in the lesser developed territories. I therefore see infrastructure as being the most interesting and crucial of these problems to tackle - as confronting this head on will simultaneously impact on the affordability and the relevance of the service. Facebook’s plan of attack has therefore been to develop technologies to deliver ‘infrastructure solutions’, through what is known as the ‘Connectivity lab’. Once again partnering with market leaders to make these platforms of connectivity a reality through solar-powered high altitude, long endurance aircraft and low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites, both hoping to harness Free-space optical communication (FSO).
The scheme has however not been without its detractors. Internet.org’s Free Basic Services has been slated for violating net neutrality (the principle that internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet the same), some believing that Facebook are essentially targeting the poor in India – a clear growth market for Facebook with only 15% of the 1.1billion in population being online. Some have even argued that the newbie internet users of the platform will only see a ‘handful of sites that now sit at the ‘front door’ of the internet’, potentially making the internet and Facebook seem as one.
It will be interesting to see how the developing world engages a wider population with the Internet and how services will develop to meet their needs?
Despite the somewhat controversial means Facebook are working on putting internet access into the hands of these developing countries (that house 94% of the global offline population) and those struggling to stay connected, but I am still sitting on the fence as to if I am a strong advocate to the entire concept.
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