Despites its troubles, the launch means Internet.org is now available to a milestone 1 billion people.
Facebook’s Internet.org project this week expanded into Malawi, bringing free Web services to subscribers of Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) and Airtel Malwai.
This launch means Internet.org is now available to a milestone 1 billion peoplea major step toward CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of linking up the next 5 billion people to the Internet.
“Giving people free access is the right thing to do,” Zuckerberg said in an announcement. “We will keep connecting more people and more countries, and we won’t stop until every person in the world can connect to the Internet.”
Internet.org provides cell phones with free Internet access to people in emerging markets—sort of. Free access is restricted to partner sites like Wikipedia, as well as job listing sites, select weather, sports, and news outlets, and, naturally, Facebook and Facebook Messenger.
Internet.org has also rolled out in India, Colombia, Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania. In India, however, Facebook encountered resistance from partners that said Internet.org’s app partnerships violate net neutrality. Rather than providing people with access to the entire Web, where they could pick and choose the services they used, Facebook provides prioritized access to specific sites and apps that would likely benefit from an influx of new users to whom their rivals did not have access, they argued.
Zuckerberg basically argued that he’s just trying to help and that any effort to get people in emerging markets online is better than nothing. But he recently announced that Facebook would open Internet.org to anyone who meets the program’s guidelines, allowing for more free apps on the platform.
According to the Financial Times, Facebook has hired a heavy hitter to make sure it doesn’t run into anymore PR snafus like the India-Internet.org dust-up: former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. He served under President Bush, but Martin actually got the net neutrality ball rolling with a 2008 enforcement action against Comcast.
Internet.org, meanwhile, is experimenting with a number of ways to expand Web access to underserved areas, including the use of drones. In March, Facebook showed off its first solar-powered drone, which can beam Internet access down to people from the sky.