Myanmar-owned MPT and Facebook launched a trial of a zero-rating mobile app providing free web access on Android devices, which the companies linked to the critical role digital services play in slowing the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus).

The Discover app is designed to keep people connected more consistently, MPT stated, noting the service supports only low-bandwidth traffic rather than video, audio and other data-intensive services. Compatible websites are treated equally, with access taken from a daily allowance of free data, it explained.

Links to Covid-19 health resources feature on the Discover homepage.

The operator noted while the country enjoyed significant growth in network coverage and internet access after liberalisation in 2014, “there remain many who are under-connected and regularly drop off from the internet for a period of time when they exhaust their data balance”.

U Soe Thein, permanent secretary of Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications, said it encouraged mobile operators to provide more affordable services and welcomes the initiative, which he believes will improve access to information and other resources, including accurate health information.

Tom Chottayil Varghese, head of connectivity and access policy for Asia-Pacific at Facebook, noted it’s particularly important to help people stay connected during this time and “Discover will contribute to these efforts”.

The offering is designed to address feedback on its Free Basics service Facebook introduced in India, which faced an immediate backlash.