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Facebook Expands Free Internet Program

Facing blowback from net neutrality activists, Facebook has opened the doors to their Internet.org program.

Facebook Expands Free Internet Program
[Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images]

Facebook’s Internet.org project, which is designed to bring free Internet access (that is, free Facebook access) to users in emerging economies, is expanding to include more developers. Originally, the project gave global users access to only Facebook and content developed by specific Facebook partners. Starting today, any outside developer can build low-bandwidth sites and content delivery platforms to deliver to global users for free through Internet.org.

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Internet.org, which Mark Zuckerberg started in 2014, offers services such as Wikipedia, AccuWeather, and BBC News for free in 14 countries, including India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Colombia, Kenya, and Ghana. Users access Internet.org through Facebook’s Android app, the Opera mini browser, or specialized Android apps.

Net neutrality activist groups have criticized the project’s two-tier pricing system. Previously, partners such as Wikipedia and BBC News were able to reach hundreds of millions of potential audience members for free–an opportunity their rivals would not have. In addition, Facebook would be able to track the content-viewing habits of Internet.org users. That tracking capability would not change under the new agreement, but now all developers have an opportunity to create content for the project.

Previously, Internet.org had defended its two-tier system. In an interview with the Hindustan Times‘s Pranav Dixit, vice president of product for Internet.org Chris Daniels said that “Some access is better than no access. The purest definition of net neutrality shouldn’t be used to deny people access to the internet. We firmly believe that we need to give people access to some sites in order to show them how they can use the broader internet to improve their lives.”

Internet.org is funded by mobile providers who believe free access to limited portions of the Internet will serve as training wheels that encourage customers to buy more expensive data plans. Developers working on Internet.org-compatible sites will be required to meet strict criteria, including no JavaScript, no high-resolution photos, and no videos.

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