Facebook to Scale Up Internet.org Service to Boost Usage

27 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After Internet.org Backlash, Facebook Opens Portal To Court More Operators.

Facebook Inc plans to scale up its service to offer free basic Internet on mobile phones, an executive said, after introducing the application in 17 developing countries over the past year. Internet.org, which is marking its first anniversary on Monday, has been able to bring in new users at a faster pace as well as making at least half of them move to a paid model within a month, Facebook has claimed.

Facebook is marking the one-year anniversary of the launch of its Internet.org service, which enables free mobile access to a selection of web services in emerging markets, with a push to bring more mobile operators into the project.Nearly two years ago, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, announced an ambitious effort to connect the world’s poorest people to the Internet. In a blog post released to mark the first year of the initiative, Facebook said it will open a portal allowing any mobile operator to offer the service under its Internet.org platform. In a telephonic interaction with the IndianExpress.com, Chris Daniels, the Vice-President of Product for Internet.org at Facebook, said: “We have noticed that users who have joined Internet.org want to move on and experience more Internet. The site also lays out the business case, in Facebook’s eyes, behind Internet.org. “As we approach year two, we’ve taken everything we’ve learned from working closely with our partners and are now ready to scale Internet.org free basic services.

Zuckerberg’s vision — carried out with partners through an entity called Internet.org — encompasses a range of strategies, including lasers, drones and satellites beaming Internet signals down from the sky. Facebook developed the platform with six technology partners to bring an estimated 4.5 billion unconnected people online, mainly in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Internet.org began with initial launches in Africa, but it has since expanded to cover 17 countries — including large populations like Pakistan, India and Indonesia — across three continents. Although the exact mix varies by country, the highlight of the app is a stripped-down version of Facebook’s social network and its Messenger instant-messaging service, with other useful services also included, such as Wikipedia, news, weather reports, government and social services, and local apps created by entrepreneurs in each region. Facebook argued today that more than half of the nine millions users to have used the service signed up for a paid-for data package of some kind within the first month, and that it has directly led phone owners to adopt new services 50 percent faster than they otherwise would.

Today, tens of millions of people have tasted the Internet through it, and as of May, more than nine million of those newcomers have become regular users of Internet services, the company says. (Mr. Those claims are obviously designed to encourage operators to the program, to help them convert customers into data users and smartphones, but Internet.org has attracted plenty of criticism for violating the principles of net neutrality.

Zuckerberg is likely to release updated data on Wednesday, when Facebook reports quarterly earnings). “Internet.org is really showing people the value of the Internet,” said Chris Daniels, vice president of Internet.org, in a phone interview last week before heading off to Nairobi to attend the entrepreneurship meeting that the State Department was hosting in conjunction with President Obama’s trip to Kenya. Mark Zuckerberg has refuted calls — loudest in India — that by constructing a program of pre-selected services, Facebook and its operator partners play the role of gatekeeper rather than encouraging a free internet. Although he declined to share more precise data, he said that Internet.org was not philanthropy but in fact brought new paying customers to phone carriers. It will be fascinating to see whether we see an uptick in new launches or operators exercise caution in handling this potentially hot monetization potato. (Facebook and Internet.org could face regulation in India, for one place.)

Daniels said the company had opened up Internet.org as a platform and would like to see more local application developers in each country create simple apps that can be included within it. At the conference on Monday, he will evangelize that mission to African developers. “We continue to look for more local content, and we opened up the platform to make sure that there is more content available,” he said. In addition to Facebook’s efforts, which included developing a Swahili language version of Facebook, Google, Microsoft and IBM have all been promoting tech projects on the continent. The result was a sharp drop in the price of Internet access in Kampala as new entrants competed with the traditional carriers to offer services. “This fiber network in Kampala is worth a thousand drones,” said Steve Song of the Network Startup Resource Center, a nonprofit based at the University of Oregon that has worked with Google on some of its Africa access projects. Microsoft has been supporting various projects to transmit Internet signals via “white spaces,” which are basically unused portions of the television broadcast spectrum.

On Friday, the company announced that it was working with the United States government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation to provide financing to Mawingu Networks to build solar-powered Internet access stations across rural Kenya using white spaces technology. And Africa seems to have brought a bit of kumbaya to the traditional tech rivals. “It’s the one place where I have seen Microsoft and Google and Facebook as allies,” he said.

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