Facebook app gives free Internet to mobile users in Zambia

Mobile users in Zambia get free access to services like Wikipedia, Google and Facebook

Facebook's Internet.org app

Facebook's Internet.org app

Facebook introduced an app on Thursday that will give mobile phone subscribers in Zambia access to a set of free basic mobile data services -- and Facebook.

The app is part of Facebook's Internet.org project that aims to bring Internet access to the two thirds of the world's population that doesn't have it. With the app, people can browse a set of health, employment and local information services without data charges, Facebook said on Thursday.

"By providing free basic services via the app, we hope to bring more people online and help them discover valuable services they might not have otherwise," Facebook's director of product management, Guy Rosen , wrote.

Among the services are Google, Wikipedia and AccuWeather as well as Facebook and Facebook messages, a Zambia job search portal and a women's rights app, Rosen said.

Airtel customers can access these services in the Internet.org Android app, at internet.org, or within the Facebook for Android app, he said. It will first be available to Airtel subscribers in Zambia and later roll out to partners in other parts of the world, he added.

Facebook has already done something similar in the Philippines where it partnered with service provider Globe to offer services for free. It also has partnered with carrier Tigo in Paraguay in the early stages of the Internet.org project. According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg the number of Internet users doubled in the Philippines while Tigo saw the growth of Internet users rise by 50 percent as a result as a result of the tests.

Internet.org could generate revenue for operators through up-selling content. If someone clicks on a link on Facebook to something that isn't included in the basic services, operators could offer a low-cost data plan which allows more bandwidth to use data-heavy services.

Over the next year, Facebook hopes to find three to five more partners to roll out some basic Internet services Zuckerberg said in February during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, adding that ultimately, Facebook hopes to bring some form of Internet access to at least 2 billion to 3 billion more people.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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