Internet.org App Brings Free Web Service to Zambia

Internet August 2, 2014

Just under a year ago, we first heard tell of the ambitous plans of internet.org, a collective of companies spearheaded by social network giant Facebook, and also including Nokia, Ericsson, Opera, and Samsung. The collective’s plans were vast, wide-sweeping, noble, and somewhat self-serving (if you’re a cynic at least): bring free (or at the very least highly affordable) internet access and devices to the majority of those on the planet without access to it.

At the time, not much was known about how internet.org planned to achieve this aim; the general blueprint was that customized and cheap smartphones, along with internet service that would limit the load on the internet infrastructures of these struggling regions of the world would allow more people to get connected and allow those regions to flourish from there.

Now a first concrete example of the initiative’s goals has been shown in action. The new internet.org app allows Airtel subscribers in Zambia to browse important information online free of charge, without data charges. That includes employment information, weather news, and health-related information. The lack of data charges is a huge step for countries like Zambia where data usage that would otherwise be considered small and would cost very little, is an expensive deterrent to people using the internet.

Only 15% of Zambia’s population currently has access to the internet, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, in a written status update on the achievement posted at internet.org, believes it is the first step to bringing free internet to the entire population of Zambia. Zambia is only the first stop for the app, which is planning to be expanded to additional countries and markets in the near future.

Internet.org is not the only group focusing on bringing free internet to underpriveleged or underserved areas; Google has also considered and tested various methods to accomplish the same goal, including launching a cadre of hot-air balloons, and beaming free internet down from satellites perched just below low-earth orbit altitudes.

Interesting, and though they were not a part of the original initiative, Google search is included in the new internet.org app. Google meanwhile is also working on their own free data efforts, called Free Zone, with a focus on users being able to access Gmail and Google’s search engine free of charge. Google currently operates their Free Zone in four countries: India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, through specific carriers.

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