Amidst complaints that Facebook was violating the tenets of net neutrality by teaming with specific apps and services on Internet.org devices, the company today announced that it will open Internet.org to anyone who meets the program’s guidelines.
“Our goal with Internet.org is to work with as many developers and entrepreneurs as possible to extend the benefits of connectivity to diverse, local communities,” Facebook said in a blog post. “To do this, we’re going to offer services through Internet.org in a way that’s more transparent and inclusive.”
Internet.org Platform is now open to anyone who follows three principles: encouraging exploration of the broader Web; avoiding high-bandwidth requirements, VoIP, video, file transfer, high-res photos, and a high volume of photos; and building services for feature phones and smartphones.
The goal of Internet.org is to expand Web access to emerging markets and link up the next 5 billion people to the Internet. To do this, Facebook has teamed up with carriers and app providers in countries like Colombia, Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania to offer people free Internet access via an Android app on low-cost phones.
Users don’t have free access to the entire Web, though. In India, for example, people had to be customers of Reliance Communications and would have free access to Wikipedia, some job listing sites, select weather, sports, and news outlets, and, naturally, Facebook and Facebook Messenger.
Indian companies, however, complained that Facebook was favoring its partners in violation of net neutrality. Rather than providing people with access to the entire Web, where they could pick and choose the services they used, Facebook was providing 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.
Several Indian companies eventually pulled out of Internet.org, citing the controversy.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued that “net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected.” He reiterated those thoughts in a new video (below), and argued that Internet.org started with only a handful of partners because “these services have to be specially built to these specifications.”
“But giving people more choice over the services they use is incredibly important and going forward, people using Internet.org will be able to search for and use services that meet these guidelines,” Facebook said.
Interested developers can sign up on Internet.org. now.