Facebook to scale up Internet.org to boost usage

27 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

Undeterred by the criticism from Net neutrality activists in India, social networking giant Facebook today said it will expand its Internet.org programme to offer free basic Internet services to the unconnected. 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’s Internet.org, which was launched in India in February in partnership with Reliance Communciations, faced backlash with a number of leading technology and Internet firms pulling out of the service after activists claimed it violated the principles of a neutral Internet “I would say India is unique in that respect and very much an outlier.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.

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. In other markets, Internet.org has been embraced as a pro-connectivity initiative that has garnered a lot of support,” Internet.org VP Chris Daniels said. One key part of that charm offensive is a dedicated portal that provides a go-to resource for operators seeking to connect with Facebook and offer the service — which was first announced in 2013 — to their subscribers.

A committee of the telecoms ministry set up to examine the issue of net neutrality earlier this month recommended that collaborations between mobile operators and content providers that enable “gatekeeping” roles should be discouraged. 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. 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. Facebook’s blog post said that over the past year, the service had bought new users onto mobile networks on average over 50% faster and that more than half the people using Internet.org are paying for data to access the wider Internet within 30 days. “This is really a customer acquisition tool for mobile operators where the benefit to them of offering a very light amount of free data is to bring on more paying subscribers to their networks,” Daniels said, speaking over phone from Nairobi, where he is attending a summit.

Daniels said the first year was one of learning and one of the learning was to make it easier for mobile operator to turn on Internet.org in new countries. 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. Facebook responded to that accusation by opening Internet.org to third-party developers, theoretically enabling anyone to add their services (although there are cost considerations and operator-set regulations to content with), and today it said that the ratio of paying users adds further validation to its efforts. “These points show that Internet.org is not only a successful tool in helping bring people online, but it is successful in showing people the value of the internet and helping to accelerate its adoption,” the company wrote.

It will be fascinating to see whether we see an uptick in new launches or operators exercising caution in handling this potentially hot monetization potato. (Facebook and Internet.org could face regulation in India, for one place.)

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