September 10, 2013, 4:17 PM

Internet.org nets investors ‘one of the best ROIs for doing nothing ever’

Mark Zuckerberg buys the domain to expand Internet access.

Lead Photo

Mark Zuckerberg

When former online retailing executive Jonathan Thralow and his sister and partner at Tycoons Private Equity Funds bought the web domain Internet.org in March, they lacked a  plan about what to do with it. But having built businesses around Telescopes.com and other domains, they assumed they would figure it out.

A rough sketch of the plan involved a search engine that incorporated data management vendor Mozenda Inc.’s ability to harvest Internet data, Thralow says. Tycoons is an investor in Mozenda.

But about three months after buying Internet.org, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg presented them with a “significant” offer to sell the domain name. While Thralow says he was asked not to disclose the purchase price, he says “it was probably one of the best ROIs for doing nothing ever.”

Zuckerberg wanted the domain to serve as the hub of his global partnership—other partners include Ericsson, MediaTek Inc., Nokia Corp., Opera Software, Qualcomm Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.—that aims to provide Internet access to the nearly 5 billion consumers around the globe who cannot access the web.

"Everything Facebook has done has been about giving all people around the world the power to connect," Zuckerberg says. "There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy. Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making Internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it."

The group says that 2.7 billion people, roughly one-third of the world’s population, have Internet access. It says Internet adoption is growing by less than 9% each year.

The group’s members say they will collaborate to develop lower-cost, higher-quality smartphones and to find ways to decrease the cost of delivering data. They also aim to invest in tools to reduce the amount of data required for most online browsing and  apps usage. For instance, they may develop data compression tools.

“Universal Internet access will be the next great industrial revolution,” says Nokia president and CEO Stephen Elop.

Zuckerberg’s plan, Thralow says, will be great for humanity. “It will break down barriers,” he says.

 

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