Facebook is setting its sights on its next five billion users -- even if they don't yet have Internet access. On Tuesday evening, Mark Zuckerberg announced a partnership between Facebook and some of the world's largest technology companies to bring the Internet to the parts of the world that don't have it.
Called Internet.org, the social network has joined forces with Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Ericsson and others to bring web access to the five billion people, primarily in developing countries, that don't own smartphones or have access to affordable connectivity.
"There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy," 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."
According to the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals report, 2.7 billion people or 39 percent of the world's population will be on the Internet before the end of 2013.
In a proposal entitled "Is Connectivity a Human Right?" Zuckerberg lays out his plans for the organization and its solutions to equipping the rest of the world with the tools to connect with each other and gain access to the world's greatest repository of information. The "rough plan" focuses on spreading connectivity through mobile devices with three main "levers."
First, the companies together plan to make Internet access more affordable through building out more economical and efficient networks. Secondly, it plans to have phones and devices use less data by creating more efficient apps and software. And lastly, it plans to help businesses in the areas drive Internet access through more awareness.
The Internet.org announcement comes just a few months after Google's announcement of its Project Loon, which aims to bring connectivity to the rest of the world through Internet-equipped balloons. Announced in June, Google has begun testing the balloons in New Zealand and more recently in Northern California. Just this month Bill Gates criticized the project, saying that fighting malaria was more important.
"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. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there's no website that relieves that," Gates told Bloomberg Businessweek in an interview.
However, it is clear that the current tech leaders in Silicon Valley don't share Gates' attitude about closing the digital divide. Zuckerberg specifically feels that connectivity is more than a privilege.
"There is no guarantee that most people will ever have access to the internet," he writes in the proposal. "It isn't going to happen by itself. But I believe connectivity is a human right, and that if we work together we can make it a reality."