Highlighting excellence on connectivity, from Studio 1.0 with Emily Chang and Mark Zuckerberg
The model that we consider this to be most similar to is 911 in the U.S. So even if you haven’t paid for a phone plan, you can always dial 911, and if there is a crime or a health emergency or a fire, you get basic help, and we think there should be an equivalent of this for the Internet as well—where even if you haven’t paid for a data plan, you can get access to basic health information or education or job tools or basic communication tools, and it will vary, country by country.
Zuckerberg: When people are connected, we can just do some great things. They have the opportunity to get access to jobs, education, health, communications. We have the opportunity to bring the people we care about closer to us. It really makes a big difference. The Internet is how we connect to the modern world, but today, unfortunately, only a little more than a third of people have access to the Internet at all. It’s about 2.7 billion people, and that means two-thirds of people don’t have any access to the Internet. So that seems really off to me.
The last period has mostly been about learning. We’ve been working on this for a few years so far, and what we’ve really learned is that there are a few major barriers to connectivity, and they are not necessarily what you would have thought of upfront. The first one is that a lot of people just don’t have any access to a network, so it’s a technical barrier. So even if they had a phone and could pay for data, there would be no equivalent to a cell phone tower near them to access that. That’s what a lot of people think about when they think about not having connectivity, and there are projects like satellites and drones and things like that that we are working on that can create connectivity and solutions in areas where they aren’t today.
The next barrier is affordability. And a lot of the people who have access can’t afford to pay for it. So the solution to that is to make it more efficient. Make it so the network of infrastructure operators are using is more efficient.
But it turns out that the biggest hurdle isn’t technical or affordability—it’s the social challenge, where the majority of people who aren’t connected are actually within range of a network and can afford it, but they don’t know what they would want to use the Internet for.
If we were primarily focused on profits, the reasonable thing for us to do would really just be to focus on the first billion people using our products. The world isn’t set up equally, and the first billion people using Facebook have way more money than the rest of the world combined. So from a biz perspective, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for us to put the emphasis into this that we are right now. The reason why we are doing it is two things. One is mission. We are here to help connect the world, and we take that really seriously. You know, you can’t even do that if two-thirds of the world doesn’t have access to the Internet. We just turned 10 as a company, and we decided that in the next 10 years, we want to take on some really big challenges in the world, like helping everyone get online. And that’s just an important thing for us and, I think, for other Internet companies in fulfilling this mission overall.
In fact, we’ll probably lose a bunch of money—just because supporting Facebook as a service, and storing the photos and content that people want to share, costs money. We probably won’t offset it by making much. But there’s this mission belief that connecting the world is really important, and that is something that we want to do. That is why Facebook is here on this planet.
What we have found in some of these early countries that we have worked in—Indonesia, the Philippines, Zambia, Kenya—is you offer a little bit of the Internet free, and more people start using data, and more people can access the Internet and access these tools, but also more people start paying for data once they understand what they would use the Internet for. The people understand why they would want to pay for data, and these operators end up making more money, and it ends up being more profitable, and it ends up taking that money and reinvesting that in better Internet and infrastructure for everyone in their country. So that ends up being very important, and a lot of what we have focused on for the past couple of years is just: How do you build a model that is sustainable for everyone and delivers free Internet to people?
For us, it’s all about enabling people. We worked with Airtel in Zambia. They were our first partner to roll out the suite of free basic services. And within weeks, we started hearing these pretty amazing stories coming in of people using the Internet—an expectant mother using the Internet for the first time to look up safety and health information for how to raise her child; a poultry farmer using Facebook and setting up a page in order to sell multiple times more chickens than he had been able to before; a university student using the Internet, using Wikipedia to look up information and save money on books that she needed for an exam. It’s pretty crazy.
Health is certainly extremely important, and we’ve done a number of things at Facebook to help improve global health and work in that area, and I am excited to do more there, too. But the reality is that it’s not an either-or. People need to be healthy and be able to have the Internet as a backbone to connect them to the whole economy. The Internet creates jobs. It actually is one of the things that facilitates health.
For example, in the most recent Ebola outbreak, one of the things that Facebook tried to do was we asked a bunch of folks who were involved in containing the outbreak, “What can we do to help?” and the No. 1 thing that they said was “Help us get connectivity because we need to be able to wire up all these different Ebola treatment units to make it so we can coordinate the response, so people know and can count the people who have come into contact with the people who have Ebola.”
The goal here is to make it so that a person can walk into a store in any developing country and buy a phone and get access to some free basic Internet service, and that’s the primary goal for people around the world.
A secondary goal is to make it so this is a profitable thing for the whole international operator community, because that’s how you make this sustainable.