Facebook expands Africa push

 
Screen grab

It's the new frontier for the internet - connecting billions of people in Africa and Asia who have yet to sample the delights of the digital world. Through an organisation called Internet.org, Facebook has put itself at the forefront of this mission.

Today it unveils a clever plan to get millions of people in Zambia online. It is without doubt a laudable philanthropic mission - but in the long run it could also be hugely important to Facebook's growth.

As Guy Rosen of Internet.org explained to me over a video link from Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters, 85% of those people who aren't connected to the internet are in places with mobile phone coverage. There are two reasons why, despite the widespread use of mobile phones, they have not tried the internet - affordability and awareness. In other words, data use on a mobile phone is far too expensive for most people and they have no idea of what advantages it might offer them.

The plan in Zambia is to address both those issues. The mobile operator Airtel - like a number in Africa - has been offering a simple Facebook experience for free on mobile phones. Now in Zambia it will offer an Internet.org app which will supply Facebook but also a number of other web services. Users will get access to Wikipedia, job sites, weather forecasts, and information about health, all without paying any data charges.

Phones with Internet.org

Users will be able to access these web services from simple feature phones by visiting the internet.org website, and they will get a warning if they stray onto sites where data charges apply. Only 15% of the 15 million people in Zambia have used the internet so far - now it is hoped that many more will try it. If the pilot is successful, the same method will be used with other mobile operators in other parts of Africa.

Now Airtel is obviously forgoing some revenue from data to get this scheme off the ground, in the hope that some of those who try out the internet on a mobile will pay for the service in the future. But I was somewhat surprised to learn that Facebook is making no contribution to the cost of the data.

Mobile phones will provide the first experience of the internet for the vast majority of those now trying it for the first time. The words "internet" and "Facebook" are already said to be interchangeable in some places in Africa. Now this initiative is bound to make millions more see Facebook as the gateway to the online world.

Mark Zuckerberg's passionate interest in internet.org's mission certainly seems genuine. But a business with 1.3 billion users that needs to to show investors that those numbers are continuing to rise will now be looking to Africa and Asia to increase its audience. So the philanthropic mission of internet.org and Facebook's long-term business strategy are in perfect alignment.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

Instant translation – no longer sci-fi

Automated translation is no longer the stuff of sci-fi fiction, since Skype launched a beta version of its Translator service.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Rory

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 59.

    My friend who was one of the early programmers who wrote some of the most memorable games now lives in exile on a mountain in a foreign land, disgusted that the internet has become a weapon for governmental spying and big business manipulation.

    Facebook is for chumps who haven't yet realised that they're being had!

    Anyone who loads their life online will one day reap the consequence.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 58.

    LOL, Facebook got hacked again, probably "Some Security Updates" again ;)

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 57.

    Poor Africans, haven't they got enough on their plate, someone should warn them, farcebook should just donate heaps of cash in aid, that's it, but what about the data-harvest? nope just give us your money and bugger off, like that.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 56.

    Yes bad luck for Africa, more users to exploit and make $ from.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 55.

    As if Africa has not suffered enough lately !

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 54.

    Why is this under "technology"?

    It is NOT technology- it is either a media, business or entertainment story, like many of your articles.

    Please post your facebook stories under the correct area in future, Rory.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 53.

    Is this all the BBC deem worthy of commenting on in Africa by the facebook generation? Ebola ... no comment. Boko haram kidnapping Christian girls as sex slaves or forced conversions ... No comment. Facebook expansion ... fill yer boots. Look in the mirror BBC, where are your priorities?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 52.

    Feel sorry for Africa here. This is NOT philanthropy.
    This is yet another huge American firm lying out of it's *** and pretending to be super-hero's.

    Whilst I am a huge fan of the internet, perhaps in Zambia something more than facebook is needed. Their life expectancy is falling (huge rates of poverty too), at least they will be able to chat about it, I guess.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 51.

    Are Africans also in dire need of Facebook because their schools train students how to use the World's Favourite Typewriter Emulator instead of teaching how HTML and HTTP combine to make the WWW work? Slightly less embarrassing for them since they don't have Tim Berners-Lee to wheel out at corporate events like an ageing pop star whose tunes nobody can quite remember.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 50.

    I hope that Facebook has a positive attitude here that is genuine. It would be a shame if it turned out to be exploitative information garnering for some shady future carpetbagging.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 49.

    Have people forgotten that Africa has large areas of drought & shanty towns, Facebook makes £billions in profit so should provide finances for water pipes across Africa in the same time frame as facebook.
    Providing a wider market for pedo's should not be undertaken until the poorer people have water on tap in their homes.
    Put the profits into helping the poor might justify

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 48.

    @47
    Quite right. FB is not what Africans need. As an Airtel customer, I'd rather they brought down the cost of a call (which they've just hiked 40%) than fool around with free access to FB

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 47.

    Does`nt Africa have rather more pressing problems,. I would have thought the ability to propel witless fatuous rubbish into hyperspace as somewhere down on their list of priorities.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 46.

    There are some really strange people on here with really strange views of what goes on in the world. I think you need to get out more.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 45.

    I hope the Africans have more luck than I do. I went to see what internet.org was all about and after half an hour I'm still waiting for the page to load...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 44.

    The pros may out weigh the cons, but there is definitely bad things about the internet. And Facebook got worse when it started invading personal stories with ads, plus suddenly making a lot of it public.

    I had to set the same things to be hidden from timeline multiple times, and there's not even an easy way to tell support about it.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 43.

    41. Exc
    -
    1. No, you really didn't.
    2. The Internet won't make it better and will only reach rich people.
    3. I didn't say fraud was the only thing, just how it made it so easy.

    ---

    1. It's in black & white. I said it needed the internet. I didn't say they should have the net to the exclusion of anything else.
    2. This project is aimed at the poor.
    3. So we should abandon the whole thing?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 42.

    Several people on here seem to have commented as if there is no Facebook and no internet in Africa at the moment. This article talks of expansion and the aim to make internet, and yes, Facebook too, open to people who currently have no access. This can only be a good thing. Why should some people be left out? And before I forget, not all internet crooks are Nigerian; nor all Nigerians crooks.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 41.

    36.Will Bungay
    1. No, I was explaining why it's important
    2. Obviously, but it isn't very good and doesn't reach enough people
    3. You really can't think of a greater use for the internet than fraud?
    -
    1. No, you really didn't.
    2. The Internet won't make it better and will only reach rich people.
    3. I didn't say fraud was the only thing, just how it made it so easy.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 40.

    Face what?

 

Page 1 of 3

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.