Clearly the internet is a powerful driver of economies, societies, careers, and individuals. I don’t think anyone would disagree.

But the divide between internet accessibility in 3rd world nations versus our own has been growing. However, there are a few organizations and individuals making it their mission to bring internet access to them. Of these, Google and Facebook have been making a splash in India.

My initial thought was, “great!” They’re growing our global society by providing free, or cheap internet access to those who are limited.

Google’s plan is to place free wifi (limited to 1 hour with transit pass) at major railway stations in India.

Facebook did have a bumpy entrance into this game as they tried to offer completely free public wifi, but it was limited to only select sites chosen by Facebook. Immediately, activists rose to protest, exclaiming that it was the exact opposite of the “net neutrality” principles.

Not only was there public pushback, but the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) actually banned that program and others similar. But, Facebook has come back with a plan-b to offer full access internet for minimal cost to these public areas. Simply a better option than current internet providers in these areas.

But this whole debacle got me thinking.

If Google processes more than 3.5 billion searches per day already (among other mind-boggling user stats), how could they possibly increase that?

And if Facebook has over 1.71 billion monthly active users online, where is there room to grow?

Population of the world and percentage that use Facebook pie chart

I quickly realized, it’s because there literally aren’t any more people for them to grow their business with. Maybe an exaggeration, but I’m not far off.

So their purpose is not quite as selfless as it originally appeared, but is it all that bad?

“The tricky thing with bringing the Internet to the next billion is that someone has to pay for those pipes and wires and drones to transport the bits to these developing countries,” says Nathan Eagle in this older TechCrunch article.

We have to understand that the biggest accomplishments humanity has achieved on earth (or in space) have been with large groups of people, and profitable organizations are often at the center. Business is how we get things done.

It might not be the act of generosity that some of us like to see, but it’s more than you and me are doing in this area.

So even though it’s for their gain, it’s still a great move towards democratizing the internet.

I would have liked to see Facebook take a tip from Google’s playbook and just offer free wifi to users, really impacting society. But they are public businesses – profit drives them.

What’s your opinion? Can giant for-profit businesses look out for the good and progression of humanity, or is it all just a move to increase stock prices?

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