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Facebook brings free Internet to Zambia with new app

  • 01 August 2014
  • Written by 
  • Published in Strategy

Mark Zuckerberg's Internet.org initiative has taken the first steps in its goal of providing global Internet with the launch of a new app in Zambia.

The app, announced today, provides “basic access” to 13 different Internet-based services, including Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Google search and Wikipedia, to Zambian citizens for free.

Customers of Zambian telco Airtel will be the first to get the new app but Facebook said plans to roll it out across other markets in due course.

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg launched Internet.org back in August last year as part of a big partnership with Samsung, Ericsson and others with the lofty goal of bringing the Internet to parts of the world still yet to gain access to it.

The social media network's product management director Guy Rosen said in a blog post today that while more than 85% of the world's population live near mobile phone coverage, only 30% of the world's population is actually connected to the Internet.

This is due largely to the fact Internet data is often prohibitively expensive.

"The most expensive part about owning a smartphone and being connected to the internet isn’t the smartphone; it’s the data," said Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg at Mobile World Congress back in February.

“With this app, people can browse a set of useful health, employment and local information services without data charges. By providing free basic services via the app, we hope to bring more people online and help them discover valuable services they might not have otherwise,” Facebook said in the blog post.

Interestingly the service will be free to users forever, and follows the group’s first pilot initiative earlier this year saw educational materials provided to smartphones in Rwanda.

This also Facebook's announcement in March that it is investing a reported $60 million in drone technology to bring "the next billion" online, a reference to tech companies' race to target people in parts of the world who have not yet begun using the Internet.

Not all are convinced the app is a good idea, however. Mat Honan from Wired said the idea could lead to a two-tiered system, effectively an "Internet for poor people." He said:

Giving free access to people who could not previously afford it is a Very Good Thing. Undoubtedly. No question. But an internet for poor people that in any way provides less access than the full-throated internet those of us reading this enjoy? That’s troubling. It’s another digital divide.

The app is launching today in Zambia but will soon expand to other parts of the world and be available via other wireless operators.

For more information check out the Facebook blog post or the video below.

Introducing the Internet.org App from Facebook on Vimeo.

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