Undeterred by the criticism from Net neutrality activists in India, social networking giant Facebook today said it will expand its Internet.org programme to offer free basic Internet services to the unconnected.
Launched last year, the programme has more than a dozen mobile operators on board across 17 countries offering basic Internet services without data charges to over a billion people.
By providing people with access to free basic services through Internet.org, the goal was to bring more people online and help them discover the value of the Internet and it's working, Facebook said in a blogpost marking the one-year anniversary of the initiative.
"As we approach year two... we are now ready to scale up Internet.org free basic services. We look forward to working in partnership with more mobile operators and developers to bring Internet access and relevant basic Internet services to the unconnected," it added.
In India, Facebook had partnered Reliance Communications to provide free Internet access to 33 websites as part of its Internet.org initiative. However, the programme has been criticised here amid allegations that it was violating the idea of Net neutrality, which calls for equal treatment to be accorded for all kinds of Internet traffic and content.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg had earlier said Internet.org can co-exist with Net neutrality. Following a raging debate, Facebook made the Internet.org platform open to all content and application developers who meet "certain guidelines".
Internet.org aims to bring five billion people online in partnership with tech giants like Smasung and Qualcomm. "Internet.org brings new users onto mobile networks on average over 50 per cent faster after launching free basic services, and more than half of the people who come online through Internet.org are paying for data and accessing the Internet within the first 30 days," the blogpost said.
It added that the initiative has been successful in showing people the value of the Internet and helping accelerate its adoption. "In the past month, people using Internet.org accessed health services more than a million times, which speaks to the ultimate goal of Internet.org helping make an impact in people's lives," it said.