Mark Zuckerberg Pledges Universal Internet Access With Caveats

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to deliver universal Internet access by 2020, but one of the biggest beneficiaries of that is his own social media site.
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This was the weekend that was.

The Prime Ministers of China and India were taking meetings with political and tech leaders on both coasts, the Pope was running a rock star tour, the moon went into eclipse, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the United Nations.

During the 70th annual UN General Assembly session this weekend, Zuckerberg actually addressed two different meetings. He first addressed the UN Sustainable Development Conference, and then gave the keynote address at the UN Private Sector Forum.

Zuckerberg talked about the Internet, of course.

"Connecting the world is one of the fundamental challenges of our generation," Zuckerberg said to the Forum. "More than four billion people don't have a voice online."

Earlier in the day Zuckerberg endorsed the ONE campaign, which is an international advocacy organization founded by U2 front man Bono. Its "Connectivity Declaration" states that Internet access is "essential for achieving humanity's goals." ONE wants to get the Internet to everyone on Earth by 2020.

There was no mention made of how it would be financed.

ONE says it is supported by such celebrities as Bill and Melinda Gates, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Shakira, George Takei, and Charlize Theron in its efforts. Facebook posts that are linked to these people seem to confirm their support.

Zuckerberg also noted that Facebook is going to partner with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in order to bring Internet access to refugee camps worldwide.

Some skeptics have expressed the thought that hotspots in refugee camps would be a great hi-tech way to track their movements.

Zuckerberg and Bono took their call for connectivity to the op-ed page of the New York Times on Sunday, Sept. 27.

The two got surprisingly realistic for a moment when they said, "It's one thing to say we should connect the world. The real trick is how. There's no simple solution or silicon bullet."

Indeed, the UN's broadband commission annual report for 2015 (which was written by the International Telecommunications Union and UNESCO) noted that internet growth is starting to slow down.

[Read about Sprint backing out of the FCC's spectrum auction.]

The commission reported:

In terms of internet usage, ITU predicts that the milestone of three billion internet users will be surpassed during 2015, with 3.2 billion internet users by end 2015. This represents year-on-year growth of 7.8 per cent. After two decades of explosive growth, several commentators have noted that overall growth in the number of internet users (but not traffic or volume) is slowing, as more markets reach maturity and/or saturation -- for example, Facebook (2015) notes that growth in internet users is below 10 per cent for the fourth year in a row.

Extending the Internet's reach has long been on Zuckerberg's agenda.

The initiative founded by Zuckerberg in 2013 this week renamed its mobile and Web app and expanded encryption for users. While seemingly altruistic, is not net-neutral, since it pours its users into only approved sites (such as Facebook) and limits general access.