Facebook told a few members of the press this week that its Internet.org initiative, which aims get more of the world’s population online, is on track for an aggressive expansion. Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org at Facebook, said the company plans to expand into 100 countries by the end of the year. The program is currently set up in six countries — Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Colombia and India — and has helped more than 7 million people access health, employment and local information services without data charges.
Internet.org, which launched in 2013, is a Facebook-led program that works with data providers in local markets to offer free web access to people who otherwise couldn’t get online. The goal is to introduce people to basic services — like Wikipedia, job and health sites and of course, Facebook — and have them see the value of the Internet and ultimately, purchase a more premium data package.
“The ambitious goal this year is to roll it out to 100 [countries],” Daniels said. “We don’t want to focus so much on the number, but we want this to spread to additional countries, operator groups and… see more people coming online, buying data and voice and SMS bundles. The number is indicative of our ambitious goal.”
The overall objective, Daniels said, is “to bring connectivity to the entire world.”
Mashable got a little hands on time with the Internet.org app offered in remote countries and noticed the Facebook site is a stripped down version of what we’re used to seeing. While users can connect with friends and write on each other’s walls, they are prompted to upgrade to a paying data plan to see videos and photos. This also ensures that only a thin layer of data is being used and doesn’t present capacity issues for the operating partners.
Image: Mashable, Samantha Murphy Kelly
And the effort is working. Countries that offer the Internet.org app have seen a 40% jump in new data customers for local operators. For example, the amount of people accessing Colombia’s Tigo network has increased 50% and grew smartphone sales 10 times in Tanzania as a direct result of Facebook’s initiative. Facebook works with the government in each country to select the sites available on the app.
Earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a Mobile World Congress keynote that the company is “working on” building drones, lasers and satellites as a part of an initiative to the two-thirds of the world not online. More than 90% of the global offline population lives in developing countries, according to Facebook.
Daniels said Facebook chooses to expand in certain countries based on need and the operating partners in the region.
“We prioritize all of the countries around the globe in terms of unconnected population and you get to the usual suspects on the list,” he said. “We also look for forward-leaning partners that are willing to experiment with us. We still need to look for willing partners that are ready to go… and are aligned with our vision.”