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Facebook's Internet.org Plan: Flawed, Self-Serving, but Worth It

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Experts sound off about Internet.org, Facebook's plan to bring the Web to emerging nations.

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"Today, the Internet isn't accessible for two-thirds of the world. Imagine a world where it connects us all." So reads the press release announcing Internet.org, a high-minded effort to provide the entire world with an Internet connection. It is being lead by Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), in conjunction with major technology companies Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), MediaTek (TPE:2454), Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Opera (OCTMKTS:OPESF), Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), and Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF).

The initiative aims to make Internet access more affordable through less expensive infrastructure and hardware, broader mobile networks, more efficient data handling, and new business models that will incentivize the construction of infrastructure and devices in some of the poorest areas of the world.

The idea is this: Internet access will allow for education and growth in struggling parts of the world. According to a 2011 McKinsey & Co. study, the Internet was responsible for 21% of GDP growth in developed countries between 2006-2011. That made the Internet a bigger contributor to GDP than either the agriculture or utility industries. Facebook and its collaborators want to apply that level of growth to the third world. They would also love to attract all those potential Facebook users.

This Sounds Familiar

As Eugene Arnosky, SEO specialist and blogger at the Livingston, New Jersey-based NetLZ Consulting told me, "This seems like the same thing Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is doing."

Google's Project Loon is a long term project with the goal of providing Internet access to rural, remote, and impoverished areas using high-altitude balloons (about 12 miles above the earth) to beam wireless Internet at 3G-like speeds down to devices below. The project began in June of this year when Google began a pilot experiment in New Zealand with 30 balloons. The experiment was successful, and for the next phase of Loon, Google plans to send 300 balloons into the skies over New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and Argentina.

Said Aronsky, "This is basically infrastructure. Google is building infrastructure to expand business." With its Google Fiber endeavor, Google has also been supplying high speed Internet to Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, since July of 2012. Fiber will soon be expanding to other cities and towns in Kansas and Missouri, and eventually to Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah. Of Internet expansion efforts at both Google and Internet.org, Aronsky said, "I see it as a way to get more eyeballs that are loyal to you."

Moreover, Loon may just be a better plan than Internet.org, or so thinks Jared Carrizales, the CEO of the Dallas, Texas-based search engine optimization agency Heroic Search. "Loon looks to connect the world with Internet access, and is likely to set the standard for any related effort done by any other company. Given that Google has such an impact on global Web traffic, it stands to reason that they would be the most likely to accomplish a feat like connecting the world." On Monday, a 5-minute Google outage caused global Web traffic to plummet 40%.
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