Facebook said its Free Basics programme – the product of its internet.org initiative – has “brought more than 15 million people online”, as Airtel announced plans to further support the effort in Africa.

The social networking giant’s proposition to bring unconnected users online by providing no-cost access to a set of internet content is now available to more than one billion people across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Airtel has been working with Facebook in this area since 2014, and now plans to support the offering across all of its 17 African markets. Customers with an Airtel mobile connection will be able to access the Free Basics service without charge.

Airtel will support Free Basics in Nigeria, DRC, Gabon and Niger, followed by its other African markets. Previously it has worked with Facebook in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Seychelles and Rwanda, and now these markets will have “access to more free services and the Free Basics platform”.

The updates were made at the AfricaCom 2015 event, where it was said that 14 of the 29 countries where Free Basics is currently available are on the continent.

“When people are connected, they can achieve extraordinary things as individuals and as a community. Connectivity brings opportunity for people around the world, and we’ve seen this first hand here in Africa, where we began this journey,” said Ime Archibong, director of strategic partnerships at Facebook.

In May 2015, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said that 9 million people used the then internet.org branded app to get online, having added major markets such as India and Bangladesh to its roster.

However, the expansion has not gone entirely smoothly, with criticism that the effort violates the principles of net neutrality – a claim refuted by Facebook.

In order to address these criticisms, efforts have been made to make Free Basics more open for partners, and internet.org has partnered with Praekelt Foundation to create an incubator designed to support developers building for Free Basics.

To launch the initiative, support and resources will be provided to 100 independently selected social change organisations. The tools and lessons that result from the programme will be opened to the public in 2016.

The aim is to “increase and add to the mix of free websites and services available to users on this platform”.

Gustav“Over the last year, we have worked with NGOs to provide life-saving information to a potential audience of over 1 billion through Internet.org and the Free Basics Platform. We’ve never seen our work reach so many people so quickly,” said Gustav Praekelt (pictured), founder and CEO of Praekelt Group.

“But we need to do more, and through the creation of the Praekelt Foundation Incubator for Free Basics we will do just that.”