Facebook continues with its quest to offer the word free internet through its Internet.org initiative. Just recently it launched its Free Basics service in Nigeria through a partnership with the country’s third largest operator, Airtel.
Nigeria becomes the 40th country in the world and the latest in Africa to provide the service which offers citizens free access to the internet through a portal that has selected international sites and any other local internet platform that decides to sign up.
According to Internet.org, Nigeria’s Free Basics will offer over 85 services focused on health, finance, job searches and education. Facebook also claims that the service has helped bring over 25 million people online.
Signing up Nigeria for Free Basics is big deal for Facebook. Besides being the most populous country on the continent Nigeria has the highest number of Facebook users in Africa with over 15 million registered subscribers.
It’s no surprise then that the country has been a target for the Free Basics services for a while now, something that was made public late last year when Facebook opened up about a partnership with Airtel.
As such Free Basics is scheduled to set up in all the 17 countries where Airtel operates in Africa which include Niger, DRC and Gabon.
Free Basics is not just for Airtel Africa territory though. The service is also eyeing a launch in Zimbabwe with a partnership having been established with the third largest mobile network operator Telecel.
While the relevant mobile operator partner has been identified and some of the ground work around content signups has been initiated, the Zimbabwean Free Basics launch has been delayed. According to sources close to the matter, the launch is currently awaiting final approval from the telecoms regulator, POTRAZ.
There are no indications as to why this approval has taken so long, but it’s easy to speculate about the concerns that may have been raised around issues like net neutrality. These are the same concerns that saw Free Basics being snubbed in India and Egypt.
Free Basics’ selected free internet offer has been the ire of net neutrality proponents who are concerned about the way it shapes internet usage patterns by encouraging new users to access to certain sites only.
image credit – Facebook