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Facebook wants to work with the UN to bring Internet access to refugee camps

Refugee Camps
Sadik Gulec/Shutterstock
In a speech delivered at a lunch hosted by the United Nations Private Sector Forum at the U.N.’s headquarters on Saturday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company will work with the U.N. to bring Internet access to people in refugee camps. While details are sparse and skepticism is plenty, the endeavor would be part of the U.N.’s goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.

Internet access for refugee camps would help refugees find support and communicate with loved ones, according to Zuckerberg. This is especially timely given the recent migrant crisis in Europe.

Beyond being “an enabler of human rights” and a “force for peace,” Zuckerberg said Internet access is a way to lift people out of poverty. This falls directly in line with a wide-ranging 15-year plan that includes the eradication of extreme poverty, which a U.N. summit approved on Friday.

“A like or a post won’t stop a tank or a bullet, but when people are connected, we have the chance to build a common global community with a shared understanding,” said Zuckerberg.

He clarified after his speech that it’s not all altruism. “We all benefit when we are more connected.”

Facebook is already testing tools to make wider Internet access a reality, including Aquila, a solar-powered drone that would use lasers to precisely beam fast Internet connections from the sky to the ground.

The vehicle for Zuckerberg’s announcement is the lightning rod known as Internet.org, a Facebook-led initiative to bring free Internet access to about 4 billion people across the world who don’t have easy access to mobile or fast Internet connectivity. Internet.org has received criticism for restricting access to only Facebook-benefiting online properties. Earlier this year, 65 organizations posted a letter on Facebook addressed to Zuckerberg telling him that Internet.org violates net neutrality.

Facebook rebranded the free app and mobile site used to delivery free (albeit limited) mobile Internet access as “Free Basics by Facebook.” In its announcement of the change, the company said the rebranding is intended to “better distinguish the Internet.org initiative from the programs and services we’re providing, including Free Basics.”

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