Zuckerberg: Internet.org Not About Making Money

Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg participated in a lengthy question-and-answer session with Steven Levy of Wired about Internet.org, the initiative aimed at “connecting the next 5 billion people” who are currently without Internet access.

Zuckerberg announced the formation of Internet.org last week, with Facebook joined in the project by Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung.

Following are highlights from Levy’s interview with Zuckerberg:

Since we announced Internet.org, we’ve heard from operators around the world and governments that want to work with us. This is going to provide momentum to make this work over the next three to five years, or however long it’s going to take.

The richest 500 million have way more money than the next 6 billion combined. You solve that by getting everyone online, and into the knowledge economy — by building out the global Internet.

A transition naturally has to take place. I taught at a local middle school this year, and a lot of students there didn’t have access to the Internet at home. So there’s a lot of work we need to do in the U.S. It won’t be like, “Snap your fingers, everyone has the Internet, and now the world is fixed.” The Industrial Revolution didn’t happen in a decade, either. You need a foundation so that the change can happen.

A lot of companies are doing a lot of good work in this space. We’ve talked to Google and Microsoft. I think over time some of these companies will choose to join. The things that I’m focused on for Internet.org require collaboration between companies.

After we help everyone get on the Internet and get basic access, then the next challenge will be getting everyone to have really high net access, so it doesn’t stop.

In a lot of developing countries, it’s hard to know persistently who your customer is. If you’re an operator in India, and someone buys service by going to a retail store and putting money and data on their SIM card, you don’t know a lot about who that person is. Being able to create a longer-term relationship with that customer would be very valuable. I don’t want to pretend that we’re the only company that can do this, but if we can create some value there, this would definitely be something we’d be interested in.

If we wanted to focus on just making money, the right strategy for us would be to focus solely on the developed countries and the people already on Facebook, increasing their engagement, rather than having these other folks join. Our service is free, and there aren’t developed ad markets in a lot of these countries. So for a very long time, this may not be profitable for us. But I’m willing to make that investment because I think it’s really good for the world.

We use things like Facebook to share news and keep in touch with our friends, but in those countries, they’ll use this for deciding what kind of government they want to have; getting access to health care information for the first time ever; staying connected to someone 100 miles away in a different village that they haven’t seen in a decade. This is one of the biggest challenges in our generation, and it’s wonderful to see companies come together to try to solve it.

Readers: What are your thoughts on Internet.org?

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