Facebook Internet.org app piggybacks Airtel in Zambia to offer free online access
Facebook-backed Internet.org will be launching a mobile app in Zambia, where only 15 percent of people have Internet access, which will give users free access to several online services operating on mobile phones.
The release of the app is a significant step in Internet.org's efforts to bring Internet access to underdeveloped nations.
The app by Internet.org will be operated in partnership with Airtel, and will offer over a dozen of online services that include Wikipedia, weather-focused websites, health information websites and online job listings, in addition to Facebook and its Messenger app.
Facebook has forged partnerships with over 150 wireless data providers over the past few years to be able to offer free or discounted access to the social network. However, the new Internet.org app to be launched in Zambia is the first time that additional Internet services beyond access to Facebook will be offered.
Accessing the services included in the app is completely free of charge. However, links which lead to other, non-supported websites of the app will require users to pay for data charges. In addition, the free Facebook included in the app has video playback disabled.
According to Internet.org product management director Guy Rosen, the app will soon be made available in other countries over the coming several months and years.
Facebook will not be paying Airtel for the consumed bandwidth. However, Airtel will be benefitting from the app as the users that experience the convenience of Internet services will likely eventually choose to subscribe to the carrier's Internet plans for wider and unrestricted access.
"We believe that every person should have access to free basic Internet services - tools for health, education, jobs and basic communication," posted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the announcement of the new app.
Facebook continues to invest in its Internet.org project, which is aiming to put the "next 5 billion" people online. Many of these people that currently do not have access to the Internet are living in underdeveloped nations such as in Africa.
The Internet.org project can potentially further boost the number of Facebook users, which is currently at 1.32 billion monthly users.
In March, Facebook announced that its Connectivity Lab is working on using satellites, lasers and drones to provide Internet access to people all over the world.
"We're looking forward to working with our Internet.org partners and operators worldwide to deploy these technologies and deliver on the dream of connecting the world," Zuckerberg then wrote.