Can Facebook’s net-For-All End Poverty In The World?

by Preeti S    Oct 09, 2014

Mark zuckerberg

A year ago, precisely in August 2013, Facebook joined internet.org, a global partnership between technology leaders, nonprofits, local communities and experts working to bring the internet to the two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it. Through this platform, Facebook wants to ensure that none will have to choose between access to the internet and food or medicine.

The underlying aim is a connected world. A McKinsey report says that currently there are 4.4 billion people without Internet access, and 3.4 billion of those people live within 20 countries. The offline population is disproportionately rural, low income, elderly, illiterate, and female.  And, an estimated 3.8 billion to 4.2 billion individuals will still lack access to the Internet in 2017.

Facebook is harnessing satellites, drones and lasers to spread Internet connectivity to people in the remotest parts of the world, as part of its ambitious Internet.org initiative. Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page: “We’ve made good progress so far. Over the past year, our work in the Philippines and Paraguay alone has doubled the number of people using mobile data with the operators we’ve partnered with, helping 3 million new people access the Internet.”

Going by the rapid growth of internet users, India is considered to be a big market for social media giants like Facebook and Google. The numbers are encouraging, but there is a concern. McKinsey in the report titled ‘Offline and falling behind: Barriers to Internet adoption’, says in India, Internet adoption is showing steady growth, but the current Internet penetration rate is only 15 percent.

So, India should be on the list of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is reportedly visiting India to attend the internet.org summit in New Delhi from October 9-10. On a positve side, a McKinsey report says India’s internet contribution to GDP could increase from 1.6 per cent in 2012 to between 2.8 per cent and 3.3 per cent by 2015.

Unarguably, ensuring total connectivity is essential for development. In the process, technology leaders should also need to ponder over how connectivity can improve lives, especially in developing countries like India where people lack basic amentities like food and drinking water.

If only internet.org can convert the internet user base into educated and responsible citizens, it would be a great venture.

Lack of awareness

India, which has the highest number of Facebook users outside the US, accounts for the fastest user growth (40%) to the social networking platform, according eMarketer.  That is not surprising as a Nielsen report says that Indians spend more time on social media sites than on personal email. Unlike in the US, the social media fad hasn’t reached a saturation point in India. But the need of the hour is deriving the maximum value. For majority Indians, Internet is synonymous with social media and online shopping. There has to be concerted efforts to transform it into a tool to bring about a social change. Analysts feel that millennials, who comprise highest internet users, must be educated on how Internet can be used to address bigger problems– - poverty, end water crisis and boost economy.

Phone users vs literates

In its report on India’s telecom sector, Morgan Stanley said it believes internet users will rise to 330 million in 2016 financial year, driven by falling handset costs, higher smartphone penetration, faster bandwidth and higher internet content or online services. As smartphone prices are dropping and buyers are increasing, Indians are turning more internet and mobile savvy, but that hasn’t contributed to curtailing the illiteracy rate. Currently, India has the largest population of illiterate adults — 287 million or 37 per cent of the global total, according to an UNESCO report. Smartphone sales and data usage is gradually picking up in rural areas, which have the highest illiteracy rate. If governments can use the same mode to spread awareness about education, technology growth can script a new chapter. 

It’s time, technology leaders and policy makers join hands to work towards a connected world that means more than Internet user base.