During the 2014 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unleashed an ambitious plan aimed at making internet access available to the two-thirds of the world not yet connected. This then led to the launch of Internet.org, a partnership between Facebook, industry giants such as Nokia, Qualcomm and telecom carriers, to use solar-powered drones and spacecraft to beam internet to the developing world.
Internet.org provides basic web services such as weather reports, Wikipedia, messaging and Facebook to users at no cost, in the hope that it will inspire them to explore the rest of the web and reap the benefits that it can provide. The program now reaches 1 billion people following its launch in Malawi where the intiative partnered with two mobile carriers Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) and Airtel Malawi.
Facebook also opened up the platform to developers by issuing specific technical guidelines aimed at keeping data consumption low. The guidelines stipulated by Facebook include websites with services such as VoIP, video, file transfer, high resolution photos, or high volume of photos that require high-bandwidth will not be included onto the platform. The websites will also be built and optimized for browsing on feature phones and smartphone and on limited bandwidth. To access the facility, people must use special Android apps, Internet.org’s website, Facebook’s own Android app or the Opera Mini browser.
Facebook has witnessed success of the platform in various markets including India and is seeking to replicate the same in Africa. Speaking at a conference at the iHub, Chris Daniels, vice president of Internet.org said there is need to get everyone online as connectivity allows for the development of ideas. “There are several barriers to getting people online which include infrastructure, affordability and awareness. Internet.org is here to ensure these people who face these barriers see the value of the internet”, he added. Currently, there are 17 countries and 19 mobile operators into the service with 1,000 new people accessing the internet weekly. Most of the users accessing the internet through Internet.org then proceed to explore the broader internet.
The partnership with developers is built around the internet.org ecosystem which allows people to understand their market and come up with tangible solutions aimed at solving persistent problems within this environment. These solutions may involve facets in information, education, communication, health and government. Internet.org has come under sharp criticism from rights groups in countries where it has launched with claims it fails to abide by the rules of net neutrality by creating an internet traffic super highway to access some sites and not for others. There have also been arguments of violation of privacy concerns as one of the guidelines issued to developers was that websites should not include the HTTPS, TLS or SSL encryption technologies.