Internet.org is a partnership between social networking services company Facebook and six companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm) that plans to bring affordable access to selected Internet services to less developed countries by increasing efficiency, and facilitating the development of new business models around the provision of Internet access. The app delivering these services was renamed Free Basics in September 2015. As of November 2016, 40 million people are using internet.org. It has been criticized for violating net neutrality, and by handpicking internet services that are included, for discriminating against companies not in the list, including Facebook's rivals. In February 2016, regulators banned the Free Basics service in India based on "Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations". The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) accused Facebook of failing to pass on the four questions in the regulator's consultation paper and also blocking access to TRAI's designated email for feedback on Free Basics. On February 11, 2016, Facebook withdrew the Free Basics platform from India.
Internet.org was launched on August 20, 2013. At the time of launch, Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a ten-page whitepaper he had written elaborating on the vision that asserts that connectivity is a "human right". In the paper, he wrote that Internet.org was a further step in the direction of Facebook's past initiatives, such as Facebook Zero, to improve Internet access for people around the world.
During TechCrunch Disrupt on September 11, 2013 Zuckerberg elaborated further on his vision. TechCrunch blog compared Internet.org with Google's Project Loon. Zuckerberg also released a video on September 30, 2013 explaining Internet.org's goal of making the Internet 100 times more affordable.
On February 24, 2014, shortly before a keynote presentation by Zuckerberg at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on February 24, 2014, Internet.org unveiled several new projects: an education partnership called SocialEDU with Nokia and local carrier AirTel, edX, and the government in Rwanda; a project with Unilever in India; and a new Internet.org Innovation Lab with Ericsson in its Menlo Park HQ. In the presentation, Zuckerberg says that Facebook's recent acquisition of mobile messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion was closely related to the Internet.org vision.
On March 27, 2014, Facebook announced a connectivity lab as part of the Internet.org initiative, with the goal of bringing the Internet to everybody via drones, acquired from the company Ascenta. It is also communicated by the Connectivity Lab, that, besides using drones, low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites would also be part of the project, for establishing internet connectivity in other areas. All three systems would rely on free space optics (FSO). In free space optics, the signal is sent in a compact bundle of infrared light
At Mobile World Congress March 2015, Mark Zuckerberg says that the Internet.org initiative was "willing to work" with Project Loon (Google's project to use high-altitude balloons to provide people cheaper Internet access) but emphasizes that in his view, the real work is in partnering with existing telecommunications companies to improve access and reduce costs for people already within range of a network, which he estimates at over 80% of the population.
In October 2015, Facebook and Eutelsat leased the entire Ka-band capacity (36 spot beams with a total throughput of 18 Gbit/s) on the planned Amos-6 satellite to provide access to parts of Africa Amos-6 was intended to be launched on Flight 29 of a SpaceX Falcon 9 to geosynchronous transfer orbit on 3 September 2016. However, on 1 September 2016, during the run-up to a static fire test, there was an anomaly on the launch pad resulting in a fire and the loss of the vehicle and its payload, Amos-6. There were no injuries.
In January 2016, Google had exited Facebook's Free Basics platform in Zambia. They were included in the initial trial of this project, which was first launched in Zambia.
The first Internet.org summit was held on 9 October 2014 in New Delhi, India. The primary objective of this summit was to bring together experts, officials and industry leaders to focus on ways to deliver more Internet services for people in languages other than English. Zuckerberg also met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to talk about how Facebook and the Indian government can collaborate on Internet.org.
In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg wrote in an article for Hindustan Times stating that Internet.org and net neutrality can co-exist and Internet.org will never differentiate between services. His claims were contested by many response articles, including one published in the Hindustan Times. In May 2015, the Internet.org Platform, open to participation by any developers meeting specified guidelines, was announced. Some commentators viewed this announcement as a response to the net neutrality concerns expressed. The PMO has expressed displeasure at Facebook's reaction to and handling of TRAI's consultation paper, calling it a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll.
An Indian journalist, in his reply to Mark Zuckerberg's article defending Internet.org in India, criticized Internet.org as "being just a Facebook proxy targeting India's poor" as it provides restricted Internet access to Reliance Telecom's subscribers in India. Until April 2015, Internet.org users could access (for free) only a few websites, and Facebook's role as gatekeeper in determining what websites were in that list was criticised for violating net neutrality. In May 2015, Facebook announced that the Free Basics Platform would be opened to websites that met its criteria.
In April 2015, some Indian startups start pulling out of internet.org to protect net neutrality. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in January 2016 criticized Facebook for its misleading commercials and Astroturfing the Free Basics campaign. TRAI accused Facebook of failing to pass on the four questions in the regulator's consultation paper and also blocking access to TRAI's designated email for feedback on Free Basics. By February 2016, TRAI banned the Free Basics service in India based on "Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016" notification. On February 11, 2016 Facebook withdrew the Free Basics platform from India.
Below is a selective history of launch dates and participating mobile networks:
The following websites are accessible via the service, although not all are available in certain countries:
An article published on Datamation in August 2013 discussed Internet.org in relation to past accessibility initiatives by Facebook and Google such as Facebook Zero, Google Free Zone, and Project Loon. Internet.org and Project Loon have been described as being engaged in an Internet space race. There have also been technical debates about the relative feasibility and value of using balloons (as championed by Project Loon) instead of drones, with Mark Zuckerberg favoring drones.
In December 2013, David Talbot wrote a detailed article for Technology Review titled Facebook's Two Faces: Facebook and Google Aim to Fix Global Connectivity, but for Whom? about Internet.org and other Internet accessibility initiatives.
In 2015, researchers evaluating how Facebook Zero shapes information and communication technologies (ICT) usage in the developing world found that 11% of Indonesians who said they used Facebook also said they did not use the Internet. 65% of Nigerians, and 61% of Indonesians agree with the statement that "Facebook is the Internet" compared with only 5% in the US.