Facebook Inc. has expanded its free basic Internet services under the Internet.org initiative in 19 countries, the company said in a blog post.
“Starting today, more than one billion people who have access to Internet.org’s free basic services across Asia, Africa and Latin America will now be able to access more free services through the Internet.org platform,” said a blog dated 24 September.
Internet.org is a partnership between the social networking company and telecommunication companies where it provides free services such as applications for learning English and providing information to farmers in developing countries.
Under Internet.org, over 60 new services are available across the 19 countries, the company said.
To develop these services, the social networking firm threw open the platform in May to developers. For instance, Facebook has partnered with 30 Indian developers for ‘free basic services’.
“Not only does this expand the range of resources available to people, it gives them more choice and control over the services they can use in the app and website,” the blog said.
Internet.org aims to provide Internet connectivity to more than 4 billion people globally who are not yet online. Facebook has partnered with mobile operators across 17 countries, including India, to provide users access to basic Internet services.
Facebook came up with the Internet.org app last year with the aim of providing free basic services in markets where Internet access is less affordable. The app, which has seen more than one million downloads, allows people to browse “selected health, employment and local information websites” without data charges on “a SIM card from a qualifying carrier”.
The initiative came under severe criticism for going against the ‘free spirit’ of the Internet. In India, the company faced heat over the issue of net neutrality, which basically says no online service should be given preference over others.
Facebook also announced that the Internet.org app would be called FreeBasics by Google and the website would be FreeBasic.com.
“We’re making this change to better distinguish the Internet.org initiative from the programmes and services we’re providing,” the company said.
The company also said it will be encrypting information “wherever possible” to make it “safer for people to connect to the websites and services they care about”.
India is the second largest market for Facebook, with about 132 million users.