Facebook once settled with the complete domination of the tech world. In the past few months it has become more interested in ventures that are well outside its traditional bailiwick. New information has just surfaced, according to which Silicon Valley is becoming involved with international development. It promises to transform a field once dominated by international institutions and the government into a playground of codefests and app-fueled disruption.
If you are searching for more information about this humanitarian venture, visit Internet.org (this is a coalition between Samsung, Facebook & other tech companies). Internet.org promises to bring low-cost Internet access to under-serviced areas of the world, with the help of smartphones. Until now, several “efficiency hackathons” have been organized, where different developers come up with apps, which can work on old phones, in order to bring internet without charging costs for “essential” data usage.
Mark Zuckerber is one of Internet.org’s main activists, and he has a very ambitious approach on the matter. Facebook has recently purchased a drone maker, and he hopes to one day “beam” connectivity through the sky. The ultimate goal is to offer internet access to everyone.
As selfless as this dream sounds, there is more to the nonprofit than meets the eye. First of all, its subtext is indicative of another problem with the solutions offered by Silicon Valley – the belief that the tech industry can solve any of life’s problem. In addition to this, Internet.org is offering the developing world access to the same content that is enjoyed elsewhere, but under strange conditions. Only a handful of apps, and Facebook are available. For education, health, banking or other tools, Facebook must be made the middleman.
Another strange thing about Internet.org concerns its payment system. It works on a “pay-as-you-app” model, which means that users are being charged different rates for the data consumed by apps. Ultimately, Internet.org will subsidize them, and “less” equal apps will be charged on an individual basis. In other words, your water meter app will charge you for a bath, and the more “free” digital showers people take, the more they will have to pay.
Zuckerger says that he wants to show people why it’s rational and healthy for them to not spend a lot of money on the internet. On the other hand, this payment strategy also shows that the only way to use an app effectively is by entering Facebook’s ecosystem.
In the end, Internet.org (and the internet provided by it) is the result of controversial policy decisions over the use of communication infrastructure. It is a result of the many years of manipulation of national and international telecom operators. Facebook can make the internet more accessible, but its bargain means abandoning the fight of creating different institutional arrangements. World Bank says that when development becomes just a means of making more money, the people will always be the losers.
Silicon Valey asks “Is internet access to a human right?”. The answer should be what type of “internet” and what type of “access”.