Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has always framed Internet.org, his project to bring internet access to everyone in the world, as a non-profit, humanitarian aid type of mission. One of his early pieces on Internet.org was titled, “Is Connectivity A Human Right?”
That’s caused some scathing remarks from critics who called his project “venture humanitarianism” and “Facebook’s gateway drug.” Even Bill Gates, one of Zuckerberg’s mentors, said, “Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t.”
In a recent interview with Time Magazine, Zuckerberg reiterated his point, essentially saying there’s no immediate money to be made from this project. “Traditional businesses would view people using your service that you don’t make money from as a cost,” he told Time.
But when further pressed, Zuckerberg gave some hints of what he really sees in Internet.org: a long term project that could eventually turn profitable. He said:
“There are good examples of companies — Coca-Cola is one — that invested before there was a huge market in countries, and I think that ended up playing out to their benefit for decades to come. I do think something like that is likely to be true here. So even though there’s no clear path that we can see to where this is going to be a very profitable thing for us, I generally think if you do good things for people in the world, that that comes back and you benefit from it over time.”
Coka-Cola is known for aggressively expanding beyond its core markets, often investing early at a loss in untapped markets for larger returns in the future. It first expanded to Cuba and Panama in 1906, and Asia in 1912. In 2012, it revealed a five-year plan to invest $US30 billion around the world as part of its grand vision to double sales by 2020.
For Internet.org, Zuckerberg has partnered with big tech companies like Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Samsung, all under the goal of “bringing the internet to the two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it.”
Its plan is to bring internet connectivity to even the most remote regions through drones and satellites. It’s also created a free app that provides lots of content to developing countries, like Zambia, Tanzania, and Paraguay. The content would come from a bunch of different apps, including AccuWeather, Google search, Wikipedia, and of course, Facebook.