Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg launched a free Internet application in Colombia on Wednesday as part of a drive to bring developing markets online, Reuters said.
Colombia is the first nation in Latin America and the fourth in the world to receive the new Internet.org service, in partnership with local mobile phone provider Tigo, but the aim is to push the app globally, Zuckerberg told Reuters.
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The mobile app, aimed at low income and rural users, offers more than a dozen tools via the Android operating system – like encyclopedia Wikipedia, weather websites, job listings and health information, as well as Facebook’s own social network and messaging service – without the user incurring any data charges, the report said.
During his first trip to Bogota, the billionaire founder of Facebook said the app would spread very quickly as phone operators reap the benefits of increased revenue from new customers using the services, according to Reuters.
“Our goal is to make the Internet.org program available across the world and to help everyone get connected to the Internet, ” the 30-year old Zuckerberg said.
“We’re going to look back a year from now and there will hopefully be a lot more countries that have programs like this.”
Although he declined to say where the program would be launched next, he is betting the application will soon be the “default” among mobile operators worldwide to expand Internet access. Those not offering the service will be “lagging” behind, the report said.
He said the next launch of Internet.org could be as soon as six months.
The 30-year-old Harvard drop-out met President Juan Manuel Santos earlier on Wednesday and the two officially launched the Internet.org application at the presidential palace, Reuters said.
The tools offered by the service provide a foundation Colombians can use to “build their own prosperity”, Zuckerberg said.
“By giving people these basic tools for free, you’re creating an equal playing field, ” he said, referring to entrepreneurs who could use the free Internet to start or grow a business, the report said.
The service may even aid Colombia, which has 21 million Facebook users, as it seeks an end to 50 years of war with Marxist rebels, Zuckerberg said.
“Just giving people the tools of connectivity is important by itself in creating communication and a tighter social fabric in creating peace”, he said.
Facebook has partnered with more than 150 wireless providers over the past four years to offer free or discounted access to its social network, but the new app is the first that has added services beyond its own website, Reuters said.
While 85 percent of the global population lives in areas with mobile phone coverage, only 30 percent have access to the Internet. Around 3 billion people will have online access by the end of 2014, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has said, according to the report.
Facebook hopes the Internet.org project will help more than 4 billion Internet-less people worldwide, many of whom live in Africa and India, Reuters said.
The initiative has the potential to boost the size of Facebook’s audience, which totals 1.32 billion monthly users, the report said.