More than half of the world’s population is still without an internet connection and this penetration is even lower in markets like Africa and Asia.
Both Google and Facebook are competing to find new ways to connect the unconnected in remote parts of the world. Google’s Project Loon is a network of high-altitude balloons.
In bid to make internet access affordable to more than 80 per cent of the population, Facebook has teamed up with mobile operators, non-profits, governments, local communities, experts and companies like Samsung, Nokia, MediaTek, Opera, Qualcomm and Ericsson to launch Internet.org app.
The standalone Android app was rolled out in Zambia as a major initiative on July 31 by teaming up with telecom operator Airtel.
The app provides free access to 13 basic set of data services like AccuWeather, eZeLibrary, Facts for Life, Kokoliko, Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, Zambia uReport, Airtel, Go Zambia Jobs, Women’s Rights App, Wikipedia, Facebook, Messenger and Google Search on the internet.
If successful, Facebook expects to roll out in other parts of the world later this year. Right now, the app works only in Zambia on Airtel network.
In Zambia, around 15 per cent of the population has access to internet.
According to Internetlivestats.com website, global internet penetration was 40.4 per cent on July 1 from 37.9 per cent in 2013. Right now, there are around 2.96 billion internet users around the world compared to 2.71 billion last year.
According to Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of UAE’s latest report, there were 1.07 million internet subscribers as of April 2014, with a penetration rate of 12.8 per cent.
“Our intention is to connect the next five billion unconnected people around the world, spread awareness and increase internet penetration. The partners will jointly develop technology that decreases the cost of delivering data by compression capabilities and make networks and services run efficiently,” Nicola Mendelsohn, vice-president of Facebook EMEA, told Gulf News.
She said that access to the internet should to be entitled to everyone. There are variety of reasons why people does not have access to internet.
Cellular service blankets most part of the globe and the expensive data is deterring many to opt in or the data is too big to absorb into different technologies that are available or some does not know the basic education about internet.
“That are lot of ways and challenges we need to think about. We are just getting going by launching it in Zambia and we are very excited about it. No one company can do this itself, so team work is needed and the team is exploring a variety of technologies, including drones and satellites, for people to have a greater say in their societies and participate in the knowledge economy,” she said.
By building the knowledge economy, she said that many of our economic and social challenges can be solved and can create “new growth opportunities. Internet is a powerful tool for change,” Mendelsohn said.
On who will bear the cost of data access, she said that the team is working with different solutions and right now the costs are absorbed by the partners, and in the Zambia it is absorbed by Airtel.
There is no one solution right now, she said, but ultimately users need to bear some costs. The team will be working on new models to decrease the cost of data access and also invent new technologies that can solve barriers to connectivity.
“As users get used to internet services in Zambia, they may opt to pay for unrestricted access to internet and this will benefit Airtel,” she said.
Going forward, she said that internet.org will be tailor-made to specific regions and countries.
When asked how Facebook or partners are going to make money out of internet.org, she said that the main intention is to give access to the internet and that is what we care about.
“We don’t state how we are going to make money. For example, our Messenger app, which has over 200 million users, is not monetised in anyway. We have just started to monetise Instagram in small parts of the world,” she added.