By: LILIAN OCHIENG
Facebook wants to partner with local telcos to bridge the digital divide in remote places even as the world raises fears over its Internet.org platform.
The application allows users to access the web for a limited amount of time free of charge. Complaints are, however, rife that the application does not reach its target audience and goes against set policies.
“Facebook has made it easier for any mobile operator to sign up for and turn on Internet.org in developing countries through a partner portal that includes technical tools and best practices, improving the process to offer free basic services to the unconnected,” said Chris Daniels, vice-president of Internet.org, at a media briefing in Nairobi on Monday.
Mr Daniels called on Safaricom, Airtel Kenya and Telkom Kenya to consider partnering with Facebook to educate new and unconnected people on the value of the Internet. In his argument, Facebook would connect telcos to new Internet users.
The call comes hot on the heels of complaints by telcos that the Communications Authority of Kenya should work with ICT Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to regulate Over The Top (OTT) service providers for eating into their voice and SMS revenues.
“We welcome the investment by Facebook and believe that it will translate to more specialised products that our subscribers can enjoy. However, with regards to OTT, the concern is that these operators are not licensed locally and do not pay the numerous licence fees paid by local operators, giving them an unfair advantage,” said Stephen Chege director corporate affairs at Safaricom.
Airtel initiated the debate two months ago, with Airtel Africa CEO Christian de Faria saying that individual governments must come up with ways of regulating apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber for offering similar services as telcos, riding on their infrastructure.
Worldwide, over 60 digital rights organisations signed an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg voicing concerns that Internet.org violates the principle of net neutrality and threatens freedom of expression.
In the letter, the groups blame Facebook, saying the company claims to bridge the digital divide but fails to deploy infrastructure and devices and that people in rural places are not the beneficiaries of Internet.org.