Facebook’s quest to bring internet access to the entire planet has seen the company launch a new app that will allow users in Africa to access key services without any data charges.
As part of the social network giant’s Internet.org initiative, which has the overall goal of getting the world’s entire population online, the Mark Zuckerberg-founded firm has teamed up with mobile provider Airtel to give mobile phone owners in Zambia access to health, job and weather information via the web.
It will also give users access to Wikipedia and Google for the first time.
Guy Rosen from Facebook said: ‘Over 85% of the world’s population lives in areas with existing cellular coverage, yet only about 30% of the total population accesses the internet.
‘Affordability and awareness are significant barriers to internet adoption for many and today we are introducing the Internet.org app to make the internet accessible to more people by providing a set of free basic services.’
The app, which can be accessed by visiting Internet.org on an Airtel phone in the country, will give users the chance to use services like Google and Wikipedia for the first time.
It also means that simple feature phones will be able to access the site, and not just modern smartphones.
According to statistics, only 15% of Zambia’s 15 million population has used the internet before, and Facebook says if this trial is successful in improving accessibility, it will look to open it up to the wider world.
Using the site will incur no data charges, and mobile owners will be notified if they are about to visit a site that requires data.
Internet.org was a group co-founded by Facebook in 2013, along with other major technology firms including Samsung and Nokia.
Earlier this year the social network introduced its Connectivity Lab, which is working on projects based around improving internet access.
Solar-powered drones flying at high altitude and carrying WiFi signal was the first project to emerge from the lab.
These are being developed in collaboration with British firm Ascenta.
According to Internet.org’s mission statement, two-thirds of the world are without access to the web, and bringing wider access would lead to “humanity firing on all cylinders” for the first time.
Fellow technology firm Google has introduced a similar scheme of their own, with the search engine’s X Lab having created high-flying weather balloons that carry internet signal, and are currently being tested.