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Facebook Sponsors Free Internet In Zambia

Zuckerberg Gets A Country Online

The Internet and online media has, undoubtedly, radically changed the world in ways that were impossible to imagine just thirty years ago. But in our rush to declare this the ‘Internet age’ and the gradual shift of our entire lives online, it’s easy enough to forget that fully 61% of the world’s population – over four billion people – does not have any sort of online access. Just 16% of Africa’s population has access to the Internet.

The main barrier is not necessarily coverage or even the cost of devices, but rather the prohibitively high costs of data plans for those living on subsistence wages. This is something that Mark Zuckerberg has recognised and so he, along with various other tech luminaries, has launched the Internet.org app, a program which allows users on the Airtel network in Zambia completely free access to a limited number of Internet services.

These services include Wikipedia, AccuWeather, and local health and employment services like Go Zambia Jobs and Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action. It also includes access to Google Search (although users will not actually be able to follow links unless they pay for data) and, of course, Facebook and its Messenger app.

Guy Rosen, project manager for Internet.org, has explained that the app is aimed not only at those who cannot afford the internet. There are also a substantial number of people who could theoretically gain internet access, but who are not really aware of its potential – for whom ‘it’s a vague concept.’ By allowing such individuals this free access he hopes that it will encourage them to invest in the real thing, and once the Internet becomes a fact of life for a greater number of people in these regions then demand and thus support for it will spread.

An interesting aspect of this is that Internet.org is a mobile-only app, reflecting the trend in developing nations to bypass the desktop aspect of computing and internet access and jump straight to the mobile use which is now the way in which the majority of people in the developed world get online. This partly due to cost – a smartphone is considerably cheaper than a desktop computer or a laptop – and partly due to the difficulty in maintaining a consistent electrical output in some more remote areas; it’s easier to have a phone which only needs charging once a day than a computer which needs a constant power supply.

Internet.org is not just about getting people online in areas where it is available but unaffordable; it is also concerned with bringing internet to previously isolated parts of the world. Potential techniques being mooted so far include ‘a ring of balloons…flying around the earth on stratospheric winds’ and ‘drones, satellites and lasers.’

This is not, of course, a purely charitable endeavour. Africa is the great untapped market for companies like Facebook and by ensuring that the very first people online in these areas are brought there by his company Zuckerberg is aiming to make the Internet and Facebook synonymous, in the same way that for many people in the West ‘search engine’ means ‘Google.’ Whatever his intentions, this is a grand step forward not just for Africa but for the world – the addition of four billion more voices to the global conversation will bring interesting results indeed.

Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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Facebook Sponsors Free Internet In Zambia Reviewed by Anonymous on Saturday, August 02, 2014 Rating: 5
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