Facebook is taking another big step toward fulfilling its vision of bringing the Internet to the entire world.
On Thursday, the company launched its first app for Internet.org, a partnership among tech giants to beam wireless service to developing markets. The new app, which is debuting first in Zambia to subscribers of local wireless carrier Airtel, will allow users to access a select number of services without racking up data charges. The sites and apps include Facebook, Messenger, Google Search, Wikipedia, a weather service and an app promoting women’s rights.
“By providing free basic services via the app, we hope to bring more people online and help them discover valuable services they might not have otherwise,” Facebook said in a blog post announcing the app.
Facebook seems serious about using Internet.org to spread Internet connectivity. Earlier this year the company unveiled a plan to use drones, satellites and lasers to provide Internet access in remote places. So far, Facebook says it has brought 3 million people online who previously had no Internet access.
There are obvious reasons for the altruism — Facebook’s growth rate is slowing in Western markets, so the company sees developing countries as its biggest opportunity for new users. But the company has to get people in those countries online before it can convince them to join Facebook. Google is implementing a similar strategy through Project Loon, a plan to provide Internet access in remote areas via balloons.
Facebook says it plans to bring the Internet.org app to other parts of the world in the future.