Mark Zuckerberg braved hostile territory Tuesday when he sought to win backing for his plan to enable billions of users who have no internet access.
The Facebook Inc. founder had come to make peace with top executives of the world’s biggest telecom companies at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
They’re some of the biggest critics of his company but he extended an olive branch to the attendees, calling them “the folks who are here leading the charge to bring the internet to the world”.
Last year, Zuckerberg made waves at the event by showing up shortly after buying free communications service WhatsApp for US$19.2 billion, Reuters reported Tuesday.
The app is a symbol of the challenge traditional telcos face from the internet and the loss of profits from phone calls and texts.
Zuckerberg renewed his call for intermet access amid an increasingly rancorous debate in which telecom and cable firms accuse Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook and Google Inc. that offer internet services of freeloading on the big investments they make in mobile and fixed-line networks.
Regulators in the United States have unveiled rules designed to level the playing field. European authorities are pushing for similar measures.
Internet.org, which Facebook helped set up with mobile equipment industry backing two years ago, wants to make basic internet services available to the nearly two-thirds of the world’s population who are not yet connected.
The non-profit group seeks to coax operators to subsidize free internet usage on a bet the phone companies can eventually turn free users into paying customers.
Facebook’s behind-the-scenes efforts to draw in more carriers may eventually pay off.
Top executives from Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Telenor, two big operators in Asia and Africa, said they were studying joining the effort.
Internet.org has recently shifted from a reliance on Facebook communication tools as its primary attraction to also offer a mix of health, education and government apps.
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