Facebook launched an app providing a range of free basic internet services to mobile users in emerging markets, as part of its Internet.org initiative.
The Internet.org app being launched in partnership with Airtel in Zambia offers a number of health, employment and local information services without users being charged for consuming data.
These services include globally-recognised products such as AccuWeather, Facebook, Google Search, Messenger, Wikipedia, as well as more locally relevant services such as government information app eZeLibrary, Go Zambia Jobs, Kokoliko chat, WRAPP (Women’s Rights App) and Zambia uReport, a free HIV and sexual health advice service.
Airtel customers can also access these services via the Internet.org website, as well as the Facebook for Android app. Facebook plans to improve the experience provided by the product as it’s rolled out in other markets.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company believes every person should have access to free basic internet services, and that Zambia, where just 15 per cent of people have access to the internet, will be the first market in which Facebook has been able to make this a reality.
Speaking at Mobile World Congress in February, Zuckerberg said he wanted to prove the business model of operators in emerging markets offering basic internet – as well as Facebook – for free.
In a blog post, product management director Guy Rosen wrote: “Affordability and awareness are significant barriers to internet adoption for many and today we are introducing the Internet.org app to make the internet accessible to more people by providing a set of free basic services.”
Rosen added that the hope is to bring more people online and help them discover services that they might not have done otherwise.
Facebook’s Internet.org intiative was launched a year ago with the aim of bringing connectivity to the five billion people around the world currently without access to the internet.
Founding members Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung, as well as academics and NGOs, have been looking to develop and adopt technologies that make mobile connectivity more affordable and reduce the cost of delivering data.
Zuckerberg said in his post that Internet.org has seen three million people gain access to the internet over the past year. Back in February, he referred to “promising results” achieved with Globe in the Philippines and Tigo in Paraguay.
Another objective was to invest in tools that reduce the amount of data required to use most apps and internet services. As part of these efforts, Facebook recently claimed to have dramatically increased the efficiency of its Android app.
The social networking giant boosted its efforts to reduce the cost of mobile internet access in June by agreeing to acquire Pryte, a Finnish company giving mobile users without data plans the ability to buy data on a per app basis.
The Internet.org initiative has also seen Facebook invest in drones and satellite technology with the aim of extending internet connectivity. Its Connectivity Lab is also working on new technology to “improve and extend internet access” for different population densities and geographical locations.