Comment Mark Zuckerberg's altruistic finger is twitching just as usage of his free content ad network appears to have plateaued.
In a post on his personal Facebook account, Zuck asked: "Is connectivity a human right?"
He thinks the answer to that question is "yes" and the copper-haired, flip-flop-wearing billionaire wants to work with other tech players to make internet access more affordable. To do this, he wants to make the net "more efficient to deliver data".
At present, Facebook's CEO only has a "rough plan" for what he described as "one of the greatest challenges of our generation".
Zuckerberg added that his company, which claims to have 1.15 billion users worldwide, had "invested" $1bn to connect people in the developing world over the past few years.
Facebook has buddied up with Nokia, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Samsung and Qualcomm to come up with Internet.org – a vehicle to promote Zuck's "rough plan" to get "everyone" connected.
But he has spotted a flaw in getting more people online:
[M]ost people in the world don't have much disposable income to spend on data access. Any plan to make internet access broadly available will require making significant technology and business model improvements that enable some access to be either very cheap or free for people who can't otherwise afford it.
He added that global infrastructure costs, such as backhaul transport to carry data, were crushingly expensive. Zuck said these costs needed to be reduced so that telcos and mobile operators can continue to make ginormous profits while passing along savings to consumers.
The network's chief then claimed that "most people have heard of Facebook and messaging" and apparently they want access to such services – they just don't know how to go about it.
But here's the kicker: Zuck also acknowledges that many of the 5 billion people around the globe he is hoping to plug into Facebook "don't have phones".
"Many are either very young or old, but many just cannot afford it," he said. "Over time we'll need to connect them too, but for now we don't yet have a plan for delivering internet to people who don't have phones or computers, so we're not covering that here."
In the meantime, then, Zuckerberg is concentrating on building apps – such as Facebook for Every Phone – that use less data, while also lobbying for the underlying costs related to sending data over the net to be reduced. Facebook is specifically doing its bit, he said, by looking at areas such as "caching, data compression and simple efficiency optimisations".
A key constraint here is to define which basic internet services should have free data, and which require a data plan. If we get this right, then it will be possible to enable the most people to get on the internet while also sustainably generating the most profits for the industry.
Facebook, of course, is a "free" service. Which in turn makes its users the product to the company's true customers – the advertisers. Zuckerberg goes on to characterise social networks as on of the "basic services" that work as "tools that people use to discover other content".
Unsurprisingly, he goes on to say that "connecting with the people around you through a social network is a basic human behaviour".
There have been a number of studies that might disagree with Zuck's grand statement, however. Some academics have looked, for example, at the supposed dehumanising effect of conversing online rather than in person with friends.
Facebook's boss saves the best bit until last by noting the following:
The lack of credit infrastructure [in developing countries] prevents operators from offering post-paid models that could enable them to make longer term investments in their customers.
And while operators know some information about their customers, the pre-paid model prevents them from knowing who their customers are. Giving people the ability to link their Facebook or other accounts with operators could help solve these problems and make it easier to provide better service.
Yes, identity-slurping – a business that admen simply love. ®