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MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS

Zuckerberg defends free internet project at Barcelona conference

Facebook chief explains his plans to provide net access to the developing world

Video: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the MWC. Quality

Dressed in his trademark gray t-shirt and jeans, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told delegates at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on Monday about his plans to offer internet access to humanity.

“Everyone also deserves access to the tools and information that can help them achieve all those other public services, and all their fundamental social and economic rights,” said Zuckerberg, outlining Facebook’s project, called Free Basics. “That's why everyone also deserves access to free basic internet services. [...] This is just the beginning.”

“Ten or 15 years ago, most of what we shared and consumed online was text. And now it’s really becoming video”

Mark Zuckerberg

He also claimed that, after using the service for a month, 50% of Free Basics users chose to purchase a paid data package. “This is good for the operators. By having new clients they provide areas with better connections, and this obliges them to invest in infrastructure.”

Free Basics is intended for people who live in areas with internet service but cannot afford it. Facebook partners with wireless internet providers to allow people in developing countries to use stripped-down versions of Facebook and other web services without having to pay data charges.

It has been criticized by supporters of internet neutrality on the grounds that it manipulates internet usage, and authorities in India have ruled against it.

The service is still available in 38 countries and Zuckerberg claims that it has brought the internet to 19 million more people who did not previously have access.

Zuckerberg also called on operators to work with Facebook to deliver 5G services, challenging the priorities for so-called fifth-generation networks, which are due to be rolled out within the next four or five years.

Zuckerberg also outlined his plans for providing internet connections to the developing world through drones and satellites

He called them “faster connections for rich people” and said firms should make more effort to “finish the job of making sure that everyone in the world gets internet access. Ten or 15 years ago, most of what we shared and consumed online was text. And now it’s really becoming video,” said Zuckerberg.

“What I think what we’re going to get to next, and I think this will happen sooner than you think, is the ability to share whole scenes,” he added in reference to immersive video.

Zuckerberg also outlined his plans for providing internet connections to the developing world through a drone and satellite network. Facebook’s Internet.org initiative is due to launch its first satellite over Africa this year: “We are about to test flying internet drone solar planes that can fly three months a year.”

He said that Aquila, the company’s drone program, is now fully underway and that a second solar-powered flight would take place toward the end of this year, and last between six and eight months. The new drone has a laser communication system, providing stronger, more reliable signals, he revealed.

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