Sorry Zuck, free web access isn’t going to change the world

Pras Subramanian
July 8, 2014
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg

For someone so young, Facebook’s (FB) Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t been shy in arguing for his soaring vision of the what the future should look like, and how we should get there. From initiatives to bring internet connectivity via drones to investing millions in crumbling cities like Newark, New Jersey, he is not content sitting back seeing where the rest of the world (and the market) eventually take him.

Zuckerberg took to the Wall Street Journal editorial page late yesterday afternoon, advocating for an internet for all, arguing that by connecting everyone on the planet to the web, the world can create opportunities for growing markets and drastically reduce poverty:

 

When people have access, they not only connect with their friends, families and communities, they also gain the opportunity to participate in the global economy. Research by McKinsey & Co. in 2011 shows that the Internet already accounts for a larger share of economic activity in many developed countries than agriculture and energy, and over the previous five years created 21% of GDP growth. Access to online tools lets people use information to do their jobs better and in turn create even more jobs, business and opportunities. The Internet is the foundation of this economy.

Yahoo Finance tech reporter Aaron Pressman believes that while what Zuckerberg is pining for is a much-needed resource in developing countries, he’s seen this kind of story before.

“It seems like we’re reliving the tech billionaires of the 90’s who decided that the way to save the world was to do exactly whatever happened to be best for their business,” he says in the attached video. “Facebook basically needs internet access to expand the business and now here’s Zuckerberg saying we should give free data plans to everyone in the world.”

What is slightly different this time from last time Zuckerberg advocated for broader internet availability is he’s talking about providing free data to areas that already have web access now. “Now he’s talking about all the places in urban cities that are already covered by cellular coverage, and giving people free data… I’m not sure this is the way to save the world.”

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

If you’re looking for billionaires to actually change the world for good, Pressman believes Zuckerberg should look to the man from Redmond, Washington. “Bill Gates has eviscerated Zuckerberg on these arguments before, and I think he has the higher hand on this one.” Through his Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, Gates has tackled issues from malaria outbreaks to HIV prevention, and now developing new contraceptive implants.

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