Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced an effort to make the World Wide Web available to the 5 billion people worldwide without Internet access late Tuesday, the latest in a series of like-minded projects.
The initiative, Internet.org, is a partnership effort comprised of tech giants Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung, aimed at developing and adopting new technologies that will make mobile Internet connectivity more affordable for consumers worldwide.
"Everything Facebook has done has been about giving all people around the world the power to connect," Zuckerberg said in a news release. "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 release, 2.7 billion people, just over one-third of the world's population, have access to the Internet. Adoption has been growing at a rate of only 9 percent per year.
"It's something of a misnomer that five billion aren't connected," Dr. Michael Jennings, chair of African studies at SOAS, University of London told BBC. "Most people have made a call or used a mobile phone, and the success of things like mobile money service M-Pesa has shown just how many people are using these things."
According to a 2011 McKinsey & Co. report, the Internet has accounted for 21 percent of gross domestic product growth in mature economies over the last five years. If the Internet were treated as its own sector, it would be a greater contributor to GDP than agriculture or utilities.
Zuckerberg's initiative is the latest in a series of efforts to expand Internet access. President Barack Obama has proposed a plan to extend access to 99 percent of schools within five years by raising mobile fees. It must be approved by the independently operated Federal Communications Commission in order to come to fruition.
In June, Google announced Project Loon, a plan to launch balloons carrying small servers powered by a series of solar panels into the stratosphere to provide Internet access to rural and remote areas. The project utilizes software algorithms to determine which areas are in need of coverage, and moves balloons to those areas along the stratosphere's slow winds.