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Facebook seeks operator partners to promote web services

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook is looking to partner with three to five operators in the next year in a bid to make internet services accessible to people in developing countries.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company wanted to work to make services, including simple social networking and online messaging, available in countries with low internet penetration as part of Facebook’s vision to “connect everyone.”

The plan is part of Facebook’s Internet.org scheme, which it launched last year in partnership with Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung with a goal of “making internet access available to the next five billion people.”

“A lot of the goal that we have with Internet.org is to create a sort of on-ramp for the internet,” said Zuckerberg, likening it to dialling 911 in the US from a landline phone to access emergency services.

“We want to create a similar kind of dial-tone for the internet. So the idea is that there’s a set of basic services that we think should exist, whether it’s messaging or being able to know what the weather is or food prices, or things like Wikipedia, basic search or basic social networking,” said the Facebook CEO.

Facebook’s operator partnership plan follows recent tie-ups with Globe in the Philippines and Tigo in Paraguay, which Zuckerberg said created a boost in web use.

“We don’t have capacity to work with a large number of partners at this point, but we want to work with a few more. Maybe three or five more partners,” said Zuckerberg, admitting that the scheme is “probably going to lose money on this for quite a while.”

Yet in spite of this, he said the Internet.org plan fitted in with Facebook’s wider ideology of not just serving 1 billion users, but “connecting the world” – a goal Zuckerberg said Facebook shares with its most recent US$19 billion acquisition, mobile messaging service WhatsApp.

Asked whether recent NSA revelations had undermined trust in US-based internet services, Zuckerberg quipped: “I mean, it’s not awesome.”

“Governments all have a responsibility to protect folks and to also be transparent about what they’re doing, and think that they were just way over the line in terms of not being transparent enough about the things that they were doing,” he said.