Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently gave a wide-ranging interview to Bloomberg's Emily Chang on the topic of Internet.org. That's the charity he helped create that brings a bundle of internet services to people without a data plan. Chang asked Zuckerberg why he thinks internet access is a human right and, if that's true, why the service provides just a limited portal of sites to chose from.
"The model that we consider this to be most similar to is 911 in the US."
"The model that we consider this to be most similar to is 911 in the US. So even if you haven’t paid for a phone plan, you can always dial 911, and if there is a crime or a health emergency or a fire, you get basic help," Zuckerberg replied. "And we think there should be an equivalent of this for the internet as well—where even if you haven’t paid for a data plan, you can get access to basic health information or education or job tools or basic communication tools, and it will vary, country by country."
By communication tools he means Facebook. So yes, he just compared commenting on photos of your friend's awesome brunch with the ability to reach your local police during a home invasion. To be fair, the package of services Facebook just rolled out in India does include medical and employment information. But none of this answers Chang's question about the lack of competing services.
"It needs to be pretty cheap for them to do."
"So it comes down to the economics of how this works. It turns out that most of the internet consumed is rich media, especially videos. So if you look at things like text, text-message services like search or Wikipedia, or basic financial or health information, [they] can be delivered relatively cheaply and can consume less than 1 percent of the overall infrastructure," Zuckerberg explained. "So if you are thinking about building something that operators can offer for free, it needs to be pretty cheap for them to do."
That excuse might rule out YouTube, but not Google search, Twitter, or a wide array of other services that have become the building blocks of the modern web. No one is knocking the basic goal of spreading internet access across the globe. But Zuckerberg's attempt to position Internet.org as a well-meaning charity making purely utilitarian choices about what users can and can't access is feeling increasingly strained. Hey, it could be worse. So far he hasn't compared the project to Gandhi or Rosa Parks.