Social networking giant Facebook has renamed its controversial Internet.org app and launched it as Free Basics, a mobile app and website through which users can access certain services free of data charges. The company is also experimenting with Express Wi-Fi, a program to provide wi-fi in rural areas in India, top executives said.
Free Basics, targeted at countries like India, will now be one of the several initiatives under the Internet.org program which has a mission of connecting the unconnected population to the Internet. “We wanted to strike a differentiation between Internet.org and program with operator partnerships,” said Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org.
The Free Basics app and mobile website went live in India with over 60 partnerships including services like English Dost, MeraDoctor and M-Kisan on Thursday. “We will have over 60 new developers and partners across 19 countries on Free Basics,” said Ime Archibong, Director- Product Partnerships at Facebook.
Until now, the program to provide free access to basic Internet by partnering with telecom companies, was called Internet.org. The move comes ahead of Indian Prime Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Facebook headquarters this week.
When Facebook had rolled out Internet.org in India with telecom operator Reliance, it had come under fire from various quarters. It was termed a “walled garden” because the company got to choose which developers got to be on the platform.
However, in May, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the platform will be opened up for all developers who can build their apps to the specifications put out by Facebook.
“The fears that have been spread by some of our critics are simply not true. Internet.org was not designed to be a destination but its a digital literacy tool where people learn about the Internet and go on to explore all of it,” said Daniels.
Any developer which meets the specifications listed can be on the platform, said Facebook.
The company said that operators have observed that people start accessing all of the Internet 50% faster if they were given Internet.org. “After just 30 days, over half of people have moved on to the larger internet and gone beyond the free basic access,” Daniels said.