Facebook Touts Free Internet For Colombians

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Facebook continues Internet.org push with app that offers free Web access to people in Colombia

Colombia has become the first country in South America to receive free Internet access, thanks to Facebook’s Internet.org initiative.

The launch of the Internet.org app in Colombia will provide mobile users with free access to basic online services, without having to purchase a data plan, the company says.

Zuckerberg Facebook -Shutterstock - © Kobby DaganAccess

The Internet.org initiative was launched by Facebook and others back in August 2013. The project aims to make internet access to available to the developing world, and has already launched in three African countries, including Zambia.

Internet.org was launched in Colombia in partnership with local mobile phone provider Tigo, with an Android mobile app offering access to online services such as Wikipedia, Google search, weather websites, job listings and health information, as well as Facebook’s own social network and messaging service. All of this is done without the mobile user incurring any data charges.

The app was launched by Mark Zuckerberg in a trip to Bogota. The billionaire met with President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday and the two officially launched the Internet.org application at the presidential palace.

The Facebook founder said the app would spread very quickly as phone operators reap the benefits of increased revenue from new customers using the services.

“Our goal is to make the Internet.org programme available across the world and to help everyone get connected to the Internet,” Zuckerberg was quoted by Reuters as saying. “We’re going to look back a year from now and there will hopefully be a lot more countries that have programs like this.”

The tools offered by the service provide a foundation that Colombians can use to “build their own prosperity”, Zuckerberg reportedly said. “By giving people these basic tools for free, you’re creating an equal playing field,” he said.

And Zuckerberg believes that the app will help Colombia end its 50 years of war with Marxist rebels.

“Just giving people the tools of connectivity is important by itself in creating communication and a tighter social fabric in creating peace,” he reportedly said. Colombia already has 21 million Facebook users, and the new app could see more uptake among the poor and rural citizens of that country.

FacebookdroneGoing global

Indeed, the overall concept behind the Internet.org initiative is to help people around the world use their smartphones and mobile devices to access basic services on the Internet, free of charge.

Mobile access is the easiest option, as developing countries tend not to have a suitable fixed-line network. However, the project has been criticised for creating a monopoly portal and ignoring the principle of net neutrality.

Yet Facebook remains committed to pushing out the Internet to the entire global population. For example, in March 2014 Facebook revealed a potential new way to expand the Web’s global reach via its Internet.org iniatitive when it entered the drone market with the purchase of aerospace company Ascenta.

Ascenta was a small British firm with just five engineers who are specialists in designing and building high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft. Facebook reportedly paid less that $20m (£12m) for the British firm.

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