Internet.org, Facebook’s initiative to bring Internet access to underserved areas of the world, is launching a program to bring more mobile operators on board with the promise of providing free access to certain online services for their customers -- a potential selling point as they compete for subscribers.
This week’s expansion includes the unveiling of a new online portal where mobile service providers can apply to join the initiative. Facebook is also touting Internet.org’s value as a marketing and subscriber retention tool, noting that it “brings new users onto mobile networks on average over 50 percent faster after launching free basic services…” According to Facebook, subscribers re also more likely to use other Internet services with data charges, boosting mobile operators’ bottom lines.
Internet.org launched in Africa exactly one year ago, and was expanded to a number of other developing countries, including India. Altogether it is currently available to over a billion people, although it’s not clear how many of these have actually signed up.
Facebook has come in for criticism about Internet.org because it only gives access to some apps (naturally including Facebook Messenger, as well as Wikipedia, Unicef’s health information site, and local news publishers), and it also appeared to run afoul of net neutrality laws by zero-charging for data for these sites -- violating net neutrality’s key tenet of equal charges for all data, regardless of origin. Facebook responded by opening the developer platform for Internet.org to all companies and Web sites, helping more publishers tap into the Web.