The Facebook-spearheaded Internet.org initiative is making progress in providing low-cost or free Internet access in developing countries, by launching a smartphone app. Initially available to Airtel subscribers in Zambia, the Internet.org app will provide basic access to a number of essential online services, with customers not being charged for the use of data at all.
The online destinations available from the app appear to be aimed at helping and educating the user, rather than entertainment. Aside from Facebook and the carrier, the app offers free access to major services including AccuWeather, Google Search, and Wikipedia, along with MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action), WRAPP (Women's Rights App), Go Zambia Jobs, and others. While the app will only be available on Airtel at first, the initiative plans to roll it out to other regions with lacking Internet access in the future.
According to Internet.org, over 85 percent of the global population is capable of receiving a cellular signal, though it is estimated only 30 percent accesses the Internet. "Affordability and awareness are significant barriers to Internet adoption for many and today we are introducing the Internet.org app to make the Internet accessible to more people by providing a set of basic services," writes product management director Guy Rosen. "By providing free basic services via the app, we hope to bring more people online and help them discover valuable services they might not have otherwise."
Founded last year, Internet.org is made up of a group of companies including Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Samsung, Qualcomm, and others, and is working to spread Internet access to those unable to easily afford it. This includes working on ways to efficiently use data, improving network efficiency, developing data compression tools, and collaborating on low-cost smartphones.