Zuckerberg’s Internet.org: Google’s Project Loon without balloons?

Silicon Valley’s sense of giving is disproportionately low compared to its sense of getting. So, you have to take every seemingly earth shattering we-are-the-world announcement with a tablespoon of salt.  Lord love them, the billionaire geeks running the world really try to make it a better place without every having had to really live in it, like the rest of us.

So it goes with the Facebook founder’s announcement about the formation of an organization to make the Internet accessible for the two thirds of the world’s population who don’t get it. The official tag line for this new initiative, Internet.org, is: a global partnership with the goal of making internet access available to the next 5 billion people.  

“Everything Facebook has done has been about giving all people around the world the power to connect,” Zuckerberg said. “There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy. Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it.” 

On the other hand, Bill Gates, no slouch when it comes to trying to give away his fortune, had a completely different take on bringing Internet to the have nots. His comments were in regards to Google’s Project Loon, a plan to use weather balloons as an ad hoc wireless network in Africa. 

“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you,” Gates said. “When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.”

So, who’s right here? The guy who thinks that Internet access will help raise those who don’t have access to it, or the more pragmatic Mr. Gates who says, I think quite rightly, you might want to focus on some real problems than a lack of Internet access.

The founding membership of Internet.org doesn’t really inspire either: Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung. They kind of look like a line of Facebook suck ups currying favor with the founder through his pet project.

Among the three stated challenges facing the developing world, the organization lists are making access affordable, using data more efficiently and helping businesses drive access. 

None of that sounds remotely helpful or am I just being patronizing? Or is Zuckie being naive?

Gates has a point that when you face disease, poverty, hunger and stuff that is brick and mortar related, like homelessness, the last thing you need is big data, status updates, and cloud computing.

Crap. Before I started this article I promised myself to be positive and happy go lucky. Oh, well. Next time.

I think the turning point was this CNN piece of Zuckie hagiography: