I’m US-centric. I admit it. I try to think globally. I try to remember that there are millions of people in the world who don’t have what I have but it’s easy to forget. When the car breaks down I forget that there are people who don’t have a car or access to any means of transportation beyond their own two feet. People with kids who can’t get them to a doctor. People with crops that are failing because they don’t have the technology they need to fix what’s wrong.
But today, I’m taking off my “the sarcasm is strong with this one” shirt and putting on my “whoohoo!” shirt in honor of Facebook’s new Internet.org app. Yes, I’m applauding Facebook.
The app gives the user free access to a dozen sites that would normally ring up a hefty fee in data charges. Health, employment, education – sites with information that could, no exaggeration, help save a life.
They’re launching the app in Zambia through Airtel. Customers will have access to AccuWeather, Wikipedia, Facts for Life (health are for children), Go Zambia Jobs and Facebook. (Can’t blame them for sneaking their own product in there, can you?)
Right now, only about a third of the world’s population is connected and though it seems like mobile is growing wild, internet adoption is growing by less than 9% per year. The problem isn’t the cost of the equipment, it’s the cost of data. Says the Wall Street Journal;
A common belief is that as more people buy smartphones, they will have data access. But that isn’t a given. In most countries, the cost of a data plan is much more expensive than the price of the smartphone itself. For example, an iPhone with a two-year data plan in the U.S. costs about $2,000, where $500 to $600 is for the phone and about $1,500 is for the data.
The Internet.org app is just one step in a larger push to bring connectivity to the world. The initiative is also working on building WiFi towers that cover more ground and ways of compressing data so it downloads faster (meaning cheaper). They’re also working with app developers, helping them make their apps more accessible for more people.
I’m sure there are cynics out there who can find something bad to say about this idea. I’m a former teacher and I say anything that helps more people get more information about more things is worth the effort.
Want to learn more? The Internet.org website has several extensive papers describing their efforts. Take a look. Maybe you can add something to the discuss that will help get the job done.