Affordable Wireless Everywhere, brought to you by Facebook

This week Facebook announced that it’s making a push to get Internet access to more people with a project called internet.org…

The goal of Internet.org is to make internet access available to the two-thirds of the world who are not yet connected, and to bring the same opportunities to everyone that the connected third of the world has today.

The founding members of internet.org — Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung — will develop joint projects, share knowledge, and mobilize industry and governments to bring the world online. These founding companies have a long history of working closely with mobile operators and expect them to play leading roles within the initiative, which over time will also include NGOs, academics and experts as well. Internet.org is influenced by the successful Open Compute Project, an industry-wide initiative that has lowered the costs of cloud computing by making hardware designs more efficient and innovative.

It’s exciting. It’s great to see some heavy-hitting businesses focus on the problem. Heck, it’s great to see them shine a light on the problem. I’ve said in the past that maybe the websites and developers who are making money based on traffic sent to them ought to get invested in transport too. It’s interesting to see how they frame the problem, based on what they think it will take to solve the it…

In order to achieve its goal of connecting the two-thirds of the world who are not yet online, internet.org will focus on three key challenges in developing countries:

Making access affordable: Partners will collaborate to develop and adopt technologies that make mobile connectivity more affordable and decrease the cost of delivering data to people worldwide. Potential projects include collaborations to develop lower-cost, higher-quality smartphones and partnerships to more broadly deploy internet access in underserved communities. Mobile operators will play a central role in this effort by driving initiatives that benefit the entire ecosystem.

Using data more efficiently: Partners will invest in tools that dramatically reduce the amount of data required to use most apps and internet experiences. Potential projects include developing data compression tools, enhancing network capabilities to more efficiently handle data, building systems to cache data efficiently and creating frameworks for apps to reduce data usage.

Helping businesses drive access: Partners will support development of sustainable new business models and services that make it easier for people to access the internet. This includes testing new models that align incentives for mobile operators, device manufacturers, developers and other businesses to provide more affordable access than has previously been possible. Other efforts will focus on localizing services – working with operating system providers and other partners to enable more languages on mobile devices.

BUT I think the proposal brings up a lot of questions too.

First – it would be great to get the ball rolling at home. That might help the project get in gear with politics and red tape that they understand. It would be an opportunity to work with the technology and not international (or foreign) policies. Once it’s working here – then try new terrain.

Second – wireless? Just yesterday Broadband Reports quoted a recent OECD report expressing concern on the focus on wireless…

Limited spectrum and the increasing demand for data services mean that mobile networks will strive to offload traffic to fixed networks. Policy makers and regulators need to ensure enough supply to maintain sufficient backhaul for wireless networks, especially if there is insufficient fixed access network competition.

…The challenge for regulators is that, regardless of the technology used, many parts of the OECD look likely to face monopolies or duopolies for fixed networks. Wireless can provide competition, but spectrum availability will always impose limits that are not a constraint for fibre.”

I always like to add that there is definitely a place for wireless – it buys mobility – but it’s not the same as wired connectivity.

Third – I might have concerns at the same people who control access to the news controlling access to the transport. Seems like a media monopoly in the making.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Vendors, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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