Mark Zuckerberg at #MWC14 - “Connectivity is a human right”

By Xenia Elsaesser (@XeniaEl), Communications and Programme Officer for Think Big 

Click here to read our wrap up of Day One at MWC 

“Connectivity is a human right”: the bold statement that was first made by Mark Zuckerberg by the way of (unsurprisingly) a Facebook post in August 2013.

After a half-year lull, Zuckerberg used Mobile World Congress to re-state his grand ambition, and position Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp within the visionary context of, Zuckerberg’s grand coalition to bring the world online.

In a refreshingly slideshow-less, powerful speech, Zuckerberg proposed that basic access essential online services should be provided free of charge in a system analogous to a 911 (sic) dial-up service currently on telephones. This would be commercially viable, he argued, because the bandwidth required to deliver such services is very low, implying minimal cost to operators.

Households with Internet have a higher educational performance.
Daniel Hajj, CEO of America Movil

He strengthened the case by drawing on the example of his partnership with Globe operator in the Philippines, where providing basic services free of charge not only doubled Internet usage, but also increased paying subscribers by 25%. The ‘freemium’ model, he proposed, could make this investment in universal Internet access an ultimately profitable venture for operators.

His proposal comes at a time where organisations worldwide are increasingly concerned about the “digital divide”: while the Internet has been an immense tool of empowerment for those with access to it, it is an inevitable consequence that the greater the benefits to users, the greater the disadvantage faced by the off-line population.

Earlier in the day Daniel Hajj, CEO of America Movil, had similarly highlighted the problem of digital inclusion in Latin America, noting that ICT was “crucial in increasing social welfare” and that “households with Internet have a higher educational performance”.

This is also the reason that our Think Big social initiative also focuses on empowering young people to survive in the digital world: this is where they are both most at risk and, if enabled, have the greatest opportunity.

Twitter responses to Zuckerberg’s announcement were mixed: many praised his social commitment, whilst sceptics questioned whether investment from operators to expand their network reach was realistic.

Amid concerns about Facebook´s and WhatsApp’s privacy & security, there are predictable grumblings that Zuckerberg’s words are little more than a publicity stunt, and the greatest detractors found it a convenient ploy for Zuckerberg to convince operators to expand his own market reach (Facebook is of course considered an “essential service”).

Even his interviewer, David Kirkpatrick, let slip some witty jabs, such as describing free access as a “gate-way drug” into Facebook addiction. Zuckerberg, however, made a valid point when he re-joined that most users with true advertising value -money to spend- are already online. Facebook is not making short-term gains through this strategy; it is a more ambitious and far-sighted move.

Many may highlight Facebook’s agenda here to monopolise users, but taking a broader social view, access to the initiative – WhatsApp’s CEO and Founder described it as “a fundamental basic resource” – is an attempt at boosting inclusive social progress. Should we be applauding Zuckerberg’s use of his visibility to draw attention to the issue? Perhaps we should.

And in highlighting how pressing social problems could be addressed with what is being proposed as a commercially viable proposition, he is looking to bring the power of corporations on board to help societies move forward. Time will tell if delivers on that goal.

The post Mark Zuckerberg at MWC ’14: “Connectivity is a human right” appeared first on Telefónica Digital Hub.

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