85% of the 5 billion people without Internet simply can’t afford data plans

The stats are staggering: 85% of the 5 billion people without Internet simply can’t afford data plans, or so reported TechCrunch today in their coverage of Facebook’s announcement of an Internet.org Android app for that promises free data access to a limited set of services in Zambia (as well as local heath, employment, weather and resources about women’s rights). If you are not familiar with the Internet.org concept and initiative, I would encourage you to take a quick stroll and read across some of the materials that they have listed on their website. Their aims are noble: to make the internet affordable and to connect those not yet connected. From their launch news release of last summer. “The goal of Internet.org is to make internet access available to the two thirds of the world who are not yet connected, and to bring the same opportunities to everyone that the connected third of the world has today.” If that kind of sounds like much of what we have written on our website and within this blog, that is not a coincidence as we have been a big fan of this initiative since it first launched and the principles it operates under. “We believe it’s possible to build infrastructure that will sustainably provide affordable access to basic Internet services in a way that enables everyone with a phone to get online. While the current global cost of delivering data is on the order of 100 times too expensive for this to be economically feasible, we believe that with an organized effort, it is reasonable to expect the overall efficiency of delivering data to increase by 100x in the next 5–10 years.” We are one year later after Facebook, Ericsson, and Qualcomm penned the above, but from the outside looking in, it looks like by pursuing edits to the status quo, meeting demand will be a challenge. With YO!, affordability comes by facilitating peer-to-peer connectivity, allowing users to share without touching the Internet (and thus saving their bandwidth for that which truly can’t be obtained hyperlocally). The 1000x challenge speaks directly to the steep road ahead by mobile carriers around the world. There is an ever-increasing amount of demand for bandwidth, driven by an insatiable demand for rich media content. It is our opinion that the most efficient way of reducing traffic on these pipes is to remove it completely – to push it to the edge of the network where data can move much faster and for free. And when we have done this, only then will the initiatives to connect the 85% of the 5 billion without Internet access even be possible.