The controversial Facebook initiative to provide free internet access to selected services has now been launched in Pakistan in collaboration with Telenor Pakistan. This launch comes at a time when there’s a raging net neutrality over Internet.org going on in its neighbour, India.
This announcement was made during an interactive event, which was attended by representatives from Telenor Pakistan and Facebook, in the presence of stakeholders from academia, partner vendors, small & medium enterprises, media and budding entrepreneurs.
Through this initiative, Telenor Pakistan’s customers will now have free access to the 17 basic online services including Accuweather, BBC, BabyCenter &MAMA, Malaria No More, UNICEF Facts for Life, Bing.com, ESPN Cricinfo, Mustakbil.com, ilmkidunya, Telenor News, Urdupoint Cooking, OLX, Facebook, Messenger, Wikipedia and Telenor WAP MobilePortal, via 2G and 3G platforms both, by accessing Internet.org or by downloading the Android app.
We are delighted to introduce the Internet.org initiative in Pakistan today with a host of useful online services including health, education, finance, news, information and job portals etc. for our millions of customers nationwide. This will provide them with greater access to relevant local and international content.
said Michael Foley, Chief Executive Officer, Telenor Pakistan.
Internet.org which was first launched in July 2014 in Zambia, has since made valuable online services accessible without data charges for millions of people in Tanzania, Kenya, Colombia, Ghana, India, Philippines, Guatemala, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malawi.
However it has been facing intense pressure in India for the past few months, as it has come under huge controversy on account of net neutrality concerns. Many have argued that by allowing a select group of customers access to free services, gives those services an unfair advantage of their competitors.
The debate was fuelled by the subsequent introduction of Airtel Zero plan by Bharti Airtel. This lead to telecom watchdog TRAI launching an unpopular nationwide campaign asking for the opinion of consumers over net neutrality issue. Many partners of internet.org in india withdrew their association amidst the debates which later led Facebook doing some damage control as they opened the internet.org platform for development so that services can make their own app for the platform subject to meeting certain conditions.
This move did give a temporary rest to the raging debates ongoing in the country but many are still skeptical of the feasibility of developing a separate app for the platform, given the time and resource constraints for new startups in country.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg remains confident that some access to the internet is better than no access, particularly when billions of people on the planet remain offline but many critics argue that providing a time-based free access is more justified and progressive strategy to promote internet use among people of less developed countries, without sacrificing the net neutrality.