Facebook Optimistic About the Future of Internet.org

by Matt Klassen on July 28, 2015

Facebook’s controversial Internet.org project began one year ago in Zambia and at first blush it seems to be a success, bringing Internet access to millions of people heretofore unconnected and allowing mobile operators to expand their services to those who previously thought it was beyond the affordability barrier. Now Internet.org has roughly 12 telecom partners in 17 countries and the social network hopes that this is only the beginning.

In fact, on the anniversary of its ambitious free Internet project, Facebook is optimistic that it’s Internet gateway still has plenty of room to grow, plenty of people to dupe, and plenty of money to be made, using facts and figures from year one to entice other operators into adopting the service.

But it’s here that I’m actually cautiously optimistic, because according to Facebook itself, more than half of the people who use Facebook’s Internet.org service as an online gateway are paying for Internet connectivity within a month, which means that more and more people are breaking free of Facebook’s online enslavement and venturing out in the online world.

According to Facebook’s press release regarding the one year anniversary of its Internet.org service, new users are coming to mobile networks 50% faster after launching Facebook’s free basic services, and more than half of the people who come online through Internet.org end up paying for data and Internet access within a month. This shows that not only is Internet.org successful in helping connect the unconnected, but it offers value to mobile operators by creating new paid subscribers.

“We’ve made it easier for any mobile operator to turn on Internet.org in new countries through a partner portal that includes technical tools and best practices, improving the process to offer free basic services to the unconnected,” Facebook said in a statement. “Our goal is to work with as many mobile operators and developers as possible to extend the benefits of connectivity to diverse, local communities around the world.”

Of course Facebook’s Internet.org initiative has not been without controversy, as I for one have long seen this as a not-so-secret attempt for the social network to brand itself as the Internet; duping the unconnected masses into thinking that Facebook is the Internet, ostensibly trapping people inside Facebook’s carefully constructed ecosystem, giving them few reasons as possible to consider the possibility of escape.

In fact, with Internet.org Facebook has seemed less like a gateway to Internet access, and more like a gatekeeper of the Internet itself, offering users who have few other options access to the company’s tightly controlled corner of the online world. Not only that, but in general mobile operators have seen little incentive to enter Facebook’s ecosystem as well, as instantly they become beholden to the social network for not only their customers, but their network management as well.

But that said, there is at least some reason for optimism in Facebook’s press release, and that is the fact that more than half of Internet.org users opt to pay for mobile services within a month. Now of course this says nothing about the financial burden Internet access might cause to the erstwhile unconnected, but it does say that these people do realize there is an online world outside of Facebook’s control. That said, I’m still not entirely sure if paying for the service releases them from Facebook’s control and I’m still wondering how this will all look when mobile operators are out of the picture entirely. 

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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