Facebook’s controversial Internet.org program has arrived in Pakistan. The social networking giant has teamed up with Telenor Pakistan to offer free basic Internet access to millions of users in the country. Pakistan is the eleventh country where Internet.org has been rolled out. Telenor said in a statement that its users who opt for the free Internet service will get access to 17 websites including ESPN Cricinfo, BBC, Bing.com, Telenor News, Facebook Messenger, and others.
Telenor’s 35 million Pakistani users to get free Internet access
Facebook launched Internet.org in 2014 with a goal to bring Internet access to almost half of the world’s population that is not yet connected. Telenor CEO Michael Foley said that the service will provide millions of Telenor users access to relevant local and international content, and online services such as health, news, education, finance, and job portals. Telenor has more than 35 million active users in Pakistan.
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Facebook’s free Internet initiative drew intense criticism from activists when the service was rolled out in India in February. Activists accused the social networking giant of violating net neutrality by creating a limited “walled garden” of services. Websites that are part of the initiative can be accessed for free. It gives them an unfair advantage over competitors.
Facebook unfazed by criticism
The criticism prompted many popular Indian news portals, e-commerce firms, and other services to withdraw from Internet.org. It also increased the awareness about the issue in other countries where Internet.org is present, including Indonesia, Tanzania, Ghana, the Philippines, Bangladesh and others.
Eventually, Facebook was forced to open up the program to third-party developers, but only after imposing a number of caveats. For instance, there should be no support for HTTPS, a ban on VoIP services, and operators will have the right to reject services outright.
Meanwhile, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has maintained that Internet.org and net neutrality can co-exist. He recently argued that limited Internet access is better than no access at all.
Facebook shares fell 0.37% to $80.25 in early trading Thursday.