Facebook has increased access to the internet in India by expanding the reach of its Free Basics app to the entire nation via Reliance Communications’ (RCom) mobile network.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced on Facebook that “everyone in India can access free internet services for health, education, jobs and communication through Internet.org’s Free Basics app.”
The social networking giant first partnered with RCom, which is the country’s fourth largest operator, in February to launch its Internet.org services in six states. The latest move takes the services nationwide.
Facebook said last week that Free Basics has “brought more than 15 million people online”. Its 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.
But Facebook’s Internet.org programme, as well as Bharti Airtel’s sponsored data service, have faced strong criticism in India since e-commerce provider Flipkart decided in April not to get involved with Airtel Zero, following protests from net neutrality supporters.
A debate has been raging about the so-called zero-rating plans, which allow users to access some apps without paying data charges. Operators and Facebook have been forced to defend the initiatives, claiming they are offered in a non-discriminatory manner. But opponents claim they violate net neutrality.
An official with India’s telecoms regulator said in April that Airtel’s sponsored content data service, as well as other operators’ zero-rating access deals with Facebook, violate the principles of net neutrality.