Only around 2.7 billion people, roughly a third of the world’s population, are connected to the internet. And this is after the UN classified Internet access as a fundamental right in 2010. The problem is that a combination of inadequate infrastructure and low incomes in developing countries means that most of that population remains disconnected. Now, however, companies that have gained tremendously from the internet—Facebook, to name one—are giving back. Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung have joined their hands to form an organisation called Internet.org aimed at making internet available to the remaining two-thirds of the world’s population. It’s an ambitious project, but their plan seems to be systematic and hardware-oriented—an area almost all of these companies treat as their core competency. The first step is to make access affordable. Basically, the organisation will work with mobile and internet operators to develop and adopt technologies that decrease the cost of delivering data, thus enabling internet providers to lower their tariffs. The second step is to reduce the amount of data needed to run apps and websites by improving software and hardware. Finally, the organisation is seeking to develop a new business model that benefits not only the mobile operators, but also device manufacturers and developers. The focus looks like it is on mobile internet, but that makes sense since that’s where growth seems to be.
This is not the only attempt by a large company to improve global internet connectivity—Google has been working on Project Loon that is supposed to beam internet to any region across the world from hot air balloons floating 11 miles in the air. But it is the only one with so many big companies backing it. Since more internet users benefit these companies, this is a rare case where business interests match social benefits.