Zuckerberg says basic Internet should be as universal as 911 service

Certain Internet services should be provided for free like some phone services, he said

Mark Zuckerberg sees the Internet as a vital service that should be made available to everyone across the world -- a service that can be as vital as, say, the ability to call for emergency help on a telephone.

In an editorial published Monday in The Wall Street Journal, the Facebook chief outlined his vision for a future of universal Internet access, and the steps he sees to get there. Currently only one-third of the world is connected, he said, with the rest lacking access due to issues like high costs or a lack of infrastructure.

Facebook has been looking to grow beyond its founding as a pure-play social networking site to become an ambitious Internet services provider, using tools that to some might seem like science fiction. Unmanned aerial drones, satellites and laser beams are now all under development and could become platforms to deliver the company's services in the future.

But for 90 percent of the world's population the problem isn't a lack of a network, but the lack of affordable data plans, Zuckerberg said in the WSJ article. Part of the solution lies in providing basic Internet services for free, which may encourage more people to get a data plan, he said.

Certain basic services over the phone are already free, he said. "Anyone can call 911 to get medical attention or report a crime even if you haven't paid for a phone plan," Zuckerberg said. "In the future, everyone should have access to basic Internet services as well, even if they haven't paid for a data plan," he said.

Zuckerberg hopes to provide free and inexpensive Internet access to more parts of the world through Internet.org, a collaborative effort launched last year with carriers like Globe and Tigo.

Zuckerberg did not specify in the WSJ article what basic Internet services specifically he or the carriers might prioritize. But he did say that access to online tools helps people do their jobs better, which in turn helps create more jobs, business and opportunities. "The Internet is the foundation of this economy," he said.

Some carriers involved in Internet.org, like Globe, have already started providing access to Facebook itself to smartphone users who are not on data plans.

And, Facebook recently said it was working on improving mobile access to its own service in developing countries in Africa.

Moreover, Zuckerberg argues that broadly expanding Internet access could lead to the creation of millions of jobs and lift millions of people out of poverty.

"The Internet will help drive human progress," Zuckerberg said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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