Facebook Expands Internet.org Basic Services Across India
Facebook has once again taken a key step in expanding the reach of its Internet.org, now called Free Basics, platform in Indi with Reliance Communications agreeing to roll out the Free Basic Services across the country.
In May, Facebook had launched the service offering free access to about 32 apps and websites on Reliance Communications’ network in a few areas. RCom users in these areas were able to access these apps and websites without paying for data usage. Since then the number of such free apps and websites reportedly increased to over 80.
In a post on Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “We just took another step towards connecting India. As of today, everyone in India nationwide can access free internet services for health, education, jobs and communication through Internet.org’s Free Basics app on the Reliance network.”
Facebook’s initiative, Internet.org has generated much debate on the subject. The service, delivered in collaboration with telecom operators, allows access to online content on “basics” such as health, education and employment and subscribers aren’t charged for the data used. Currently, it was made available only in six states, namely Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Telangana.
In his post Zuckerberg claimed how Free Basics has helped Ganesh Nimbalkar, a farmer in Maharashtra, not only double his crop yield but also get a better deal for them. “Ganesh struggled with traditional farming methods in a region plagued by droughts, but last year he started using Free Basics - accessing services like AccuWeather, which helped him work better through the monsoon season, and Reuters Market Light, which helped him understand commodity prices and get a better deal for his crops. By using Free Basics, Ganesh has doubled his crop yield, eradicated insect infestations and even invested in new crops and livestock.”
With over 130 million of its 1.4 billion users coming from India, the country is one of Facebook’s most important markets. With over 1 billion users in India still unconnected to the internet, Facebook sees Free Basics as an opportunity to bring them online for free. Free Basics, however, has been criticised by internet activists, who claim that by offering only certain services and websites for free, Facebook is splitting the internet into paid and free tiers.
Facebook founder Zuckerberg was in India last month to address a townhall at IIT-Delhi. During the event, Zuckerberg said that he supported net-neutrality “100%”, but said that he also strongly backed zero-rating.
Telecom major Bharti Airtel and Facebook also announced the launch of free internet access service platform recently across 17 African countries in phases by March 2016. Airtel Africa had already been working with Facebook since 2014 in enhancing accessibility to the internet in an affordable manner through the launch of Free Basics in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Seychelles and Rwanda.
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