Facebook's grand scheme of bringing the internet to those less fortunate took a step further. Yesterday, the internet giant announced that it had partnered with Reliance Communications to launch Internet.org in India, making this the first Asian country to experience the new service.
Started in 2013 as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's dream vision of improving internet access for people around the world, internet.org provides access to basic internet services to subscribers at no cost.
In India, Reliance subscribers, as of yesterday, will gain access to 33 different websites, including Wikipedia, Facebook, TimesJob, Dictionary.com, Reuters Market Lite etc. Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org at Facebook said that more content partners would be added with time. According to Gurdeep Singh, CEO (Consumer Business) at Reliance Communications, Internet.org would be initially available in the seven circles of Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Chennai, Tamil Nadu and Kerala with plans for a pan-India roll out within 90 days.
India is now the sixth nation after Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Colombia and Ghana, where this service has been launched. In each of the nations, Facebook has followed a policy of working with a single telco. When asked whether it would not make more sense to partner with more operators to cover a larger part of the country, Daniels cryptically replied, "We are ready to work with them, but you should be asking them this."
Mark Zuckerberg has been advocating easy internet access for the world since the launch of Internet.org but there are still some questions that remain unanswered. When asked who would pay the carrier for access to these websites, both Facebook and Reliance officials deflected the question by stating that the priority was to make internet accessible to the masses. Similarly, when asked how many people have actually availed of Internet.org since its launch, Daniels would not share any numbers.
Even earlier, there have been certain criticisms levied against the concept by media analysts who feel that Internet.org was not as altruistic as Facebook would have us believe. In a way these criticisms do make sense, since the more people who have access to the internet; remembering that Facebook is one of the services available through Internet.org, the more new subscribers Facebook receives.
As of now, Reliance is optimistic that its approximately 110 million subscribers, 70 per cent of which, said Singh are 'offline' (do not have a data plan), will have reasons and a way of accessing the internet if only for basic services. Daniels, meanwhile, said that Facebook is open to user feedback on the websites and services that they want to access through Internet.org. With the Indian internet user base currently the second largest in the world an expected to grow exponentially in the coming years, the influence of Internet.org will be interesting to see.