Facebook and Google Seem Serious About ‘Cheap Internet for All’ CSR Projects

When Mark Zuckerberg first announced his plans to create a free wi-fi program for the third world, quite a few responded skeptically. Was this simply a stunt designed to make Facebook look more like a responsible corporate citizen and less like Grand Theft Auto’s “LifeInvader” while adding millions to membership rolls?

Now it seems that most of tech’s biggest names are on the same page, and various projects that look and sound very similar to Internet.org are moving forward with support from the big boys. The most prominent project to date is the Alliance for Affordable Internet, or A4AI, which gained a good bit of attention this week thanks to the backing of the largest names in tech: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and, yes, Facebook. The fact that Tim Berners-Lee, aka the inventor of the World Wide Web, serves as the project’s public face only adds to its credibility.

Google, which already launched a similar initiative with its balloon-powered Internet Project Loon, blogged about the development this week, framing it as an effort by the rulers of the tech universe to “make the world a more connected place.”

Two-thirds of the planet’s population lacks Internet access despite the fact that the rest of us check our smartphones more than 100 times every single day, and it’s in the best interests of these companies to help change that fact on both a CSR and a “more customers for us!” level. The A4AI sponsors list includes both investment firm Omidyar Network and USAID, an org dedicated to “advanc[ing] U.S. foreign policy interests”, which hints at the “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” relationship between these two goals.

Hard to see a brand as anything but a benevolent overlord when they’re giving you free stuff.

*Photo via Paul Sakuma/AP