Facebook has tied up with Bharti Airtel to launch Free Basics (Internet.org renamed), Facebook’s net neutrality violating platform, to 17 South African countries by March 2016, reports TOI. According to Mark Zuckerberg, half of the 30 countries which have access to Internet.org are in Africa. Facebook and Airtel have partnerships in 6 countries, whereas two countries have the service with a different telecom provider.
The Internet.org service will be live in Burkina Faso, Chad, Gabon, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and Uganda. Facebook will also be launching a satellite to provide internet coverage (unclear if this is the Internet or Internet.org) to remote areas in Sub Saharan Africa from the next year.
Sunil Mittal: “Internet.org is not philanthropic”: Interestingly, in March this year, Bharti Airtel chief Sunil Mittal had said that Internet.org would only serve Facebook. “Zuckerberg is saying that make Internet.org lite version of Facebook free of data charge, so that people will upgrade. People will come to internet for the first time. The point is that it is self-serving for them,” Mittal said. (Related blast from the past: TRAI needs to take note of Airtel’s anti net-neutrality statements)
Open source tools; testing advertising: Facebook has also tied up with Praekelt Foundation to support developers to build Free Basics services. This partnership revolves around an incubator which will provide 100 organisations with open source tools to create online services for the developing world. According to a Recode report, Facebook opened its first office in Africa in June this year to serve as a sales hub, and attract advertisers. It has also launched a Creative Accelerator program to understand advertising in the region.
BSNL partnership for WiFi: Earlier this month, Facebook and BSNL entered into a partnership to create 100 WiFi hotspots in rural areas in India, in which Facebook would invest Rs 5 crore per year to buy bandwidth from BSNL, while infrastructure providers like Trimax and Quad Zen would provide equipment and fibre deployment.
Internet.org India head: In India, Facebook is looking for a New Delhi based candidate to head its Internet.org project in India and South Asia, who will be expected to “work closely with policy makers, regulators, industry associations, businesses, civil society and academics across the region”.
Operators are lobbying hard for Internet services to be regulated and are also looking for a revenue sharing model in the country. Under Internet.org only certain services which Facebook deems essential will be free and not attract any data charges with its tie-ups with operators. In India, Facebook has tied-up with Reliance Communications to provide Internet.org. More on that here. An Indian Internet.org timeline here.
Disclosure: MediaNama has taken a strong stand in favour of Net Neutrality.