With his digital service initiative, Internet.org, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long sought to deliver affordable, basic Internet access to the large percentage of the world’s population who live without connection. Earlier this week, the global project has reached Malawi, a country in southeast Africa. As of now, those who subscribe to Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) and airtel Malawi have unrestricted basic web access. Internet access in Malawi is now a thing.
Understanding the initiative plan, and how it helps developing countries
Founded on the basis of combatting expensive devices, service plans, scarce mobile networks and language barriers, Internet.org seeks to bridge gaps and share tools that tackle the disparity in resource availability and efficiency. The project’s business model and prime mission is to deliver basic Internet access to 5 billion more people — with the initiative’s launch in Malawi, Zuckerberg’s project has, since its conception, delivered access to a remarkable 1 billion people.
Perhaps the most notable service provided by the initiative includes delivering free Internet connection to cell phones. But there’s a catch — access is restricted to sites that partner with the initiative, and currently include pages like Wikipedia, and sites that feature news, weather, sports, job listings and, of course, Facebook and Facebook Messenger. However, the sprinkling of sites that Internet.org users have access to has registered, in some cases, as restrictive and even prohibitive.
The most recent problem of this nature has arisen with India. One of the blunders was made when a Facebook infographic detailing Internet.org’s worldwide reach made an error depicting the map of India. On the infographic, Kashmir was not drawn in the map. This added onto another contentious concern — some Indian firms are claiming that the initiative’s app partnerships are blatantly violating net neutrality.
Tensions with India arising from the rollout initiative, leading to companies backing out
Indian companies Cleartip (travel agency), NewsHunt, NDTV and The Times Group (India’s largest media conglomerate) have backed out almost entirely of the partnership with Internet.org. They are claiming this withdrawal is due to a violation of net neutrality, since the partnership apparently clearly favors certain sites above others. It appears that Facebook has been providing greater access to a concentrated group of sites and apps, allowing them to benefit more profoundly from the new influx of Web users. Responding to this backlash, the Internet.org has opened up the Internet.org Platform, which allows for engagement with brands and companies that follow revised participation guidelines.