MWC2014: Zuckerberg calls for internet 'dial tone'

Don Sambandaraksa
25 Feb 2014

Mark Zuckerberg delivered a keynote address at the end of day one at Mobile World Congress that was focused on connecting the next billion people and of working with telcos to find a sustainable business model to help connect the rest of the world through the industry body

The Facebook founder and CEO explained how despite there being 5 billion phones in use, today only one third of humanity, around 2.7 billion people, have access to the internet and today the growth has been slower than many have imagined. Yet as much of 80% of the world’s population live in areas covered by 2G or 3G data. What is lacking is not the money to buy a new phone, but rather a reason to.

He poked fun at the people with balloons (Google’s project Loon) delivering internet as a niche that was only necessary for the last few percent in remote areas.

Many people are now in a catch-22. They may have enough money for a data plan, but if they had not grown up on the internet, they would not know why they would want it.

Facebook has been working with telcos to try and work out a model to get people onto the internet for free and then taking out the friction to upsell to more open data packages. He envisions that basic services, such as messaging, Wikipedia, food pricing or basic social networking should be offered free. Without graphics of video, the network load would be minimal.

Zuckerberg calls this free provision of basic services a dial-tone for the internet.

Globe in the Philippines is one of Facebook’s pioneering partners and in the three or four months that they have offered this service, the number of internet users have doubled and, crucially for the telco, Globe subscribers have gone up by 25%.

“Previously the question was, ‘do you want a data plan?’, to which the answer was usually, ‘I don’t know’, [now it's] ‘do you want Facebook?’, to which many will answer, ‘yeah, I want that’,” he said.

Facebook is looking for a further three to five telco partners to allow it to refine the business model, to help figure out what services to include for free.

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