Connecting Colombia

By bogotapost January 24, 2015
Mark Zuckerberg speaking in Bogota, Mark Zuckerberg in Colombia

Billionaire tech mogul Mark Zuckerberg was in Bogota last week to unveil a new application that will give millions of underprivileged people around the world access to the internet for free. Photo: Maurizio Pesce, CC BY 2.0

The country will be the first in South America to benefit from Facebook’s plan to give free internet to hundreds of millions of online have-nots

For most of us, the internet is a ubiquitous part of daily life. It is there from the moment we wake up to the time we lay our heads down to sleep. We spend hours with our noses in our laptops and mobile phones. It is the way we do business, attend meetings, work and play. Many of us could not picture life without it.

So it may not be so easy to imagine that there are billions of people in the world who have never been connected to the internet; to them, a Tweet is about as foreign a concept as the moon landing.

For Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the disconnect between those who are online and those who are not – particularly in the developing world – means that many are left without a voice in what he calls the “knowledge-based economy.”

While 85 percent of the global population live in areas with mobile phone coverage, only 30 percent have access to the internet, according to a recent media report.

Zuckerberg and a number of other companies have joined forces and created, a project (and a website) where access to the internet will be given away for free to those who couldn’t otherwise afford to get online.

“By giving people these basic tools for free, you’re creating an equal playing field in the country,” the billionaire tech mogul said during a public forum in Bogota last week. “Technology isn’t just for the rich who can pay for it, it [needs to] be available for everyone. I believe in this very much.”

Colombia is the first Latin American country to receive the new service, in partnership with the Colombian mobile phone provider Tigo.

Zuckerberg said the initiative will spread throughout all of Latin America in the coming months.

The tools offered by this service provide a foundation for Colombians to “build their own prosperity,” he stated.

Through Android, the app will allow users to connect to sites including Wikipedia, weather sites, jobs postings and health information, as well as Facebook’s own services. Any additional sites visited will incur data charges.

Facebook has partnered with more than 150 different wireless providers in South America and Africa over the past four years to offer free or discounted access to its social network, but the new app unveiled in Bogota last week is the first time the company has added services beyond its own website.

By Steven Grattan & Mark Kennedy