Facebook announced the deal – which will begin in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Niger – at AfricaCom, a big, annual mobile industry event in Cape Town.
Free Basics is part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative and aims to provide basic websites and other services “to introduce people to the internet and demonstrate how it adds value to their lives”. Part of this is providing basic information about health, education and finance to people in emerging markets.
“More than one billion people have access to Internet.org’s free basic services acrossAsia, Africa and Latin America today,” said Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org. “Our intention is to help people in Africa access relevant basic services that will help them improve their lives and also lead to more adoption of the internet.”
Airtel customers will not pay for data for Free Basics, which is a key part of the social network’s Internet.org initiative which aims to spread internet access in the developing world where such data costs are often prohibitive.
Bharti Airtel Africa will also offer Free Basics for free in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Seychelles and Rwanda, where it has already been working with Facebook’s Internet.org initiative since its launch last year.
“We are cognisant of the power of the internet in changing lives of communities and this partnership with Facebook will aid in bringing more people online and reduce the digital divide,” said Christian de Faria, MD and CEO of Airtel Africa, which operates in 17 countries in Africa.
Facebook announced in June that it had 120 million users in Africa, 80% of which (or 96 million) use mobile to access the internet.
Facebook has also introduced a developer platform called Free Basics by Facebook, in partnership with the highly respected Praekelt Foundation.
“The partnership is centred around a unique programme, the Praekelt Foundation Incubator for Free Basics, that will provide 100 independently-selected social change organisations with open source tools and strategies to create life-enhancing online services for the developing world,” Facebook said.
Praekelt Foundation will use the incubator programme as a springboard to empower hundreds of other organisations to create sites and services, for the Free Basics by Facebook platform and the web, by opening up the technologies and strategies for public access, it added.
“We’re excited to partner with the Praekelt Foundation to provide more organisations and content creators with the tools and support they need to bring their services to Free Basics. The incubator programme will help developers bring important health, education and jobs information to the more than 1 billion people with access to the internet through Free Basics,” said Ime Archibong, Facebook’s director of strategic partnerships.
Gustav Praekelt, the founder and CEO of the Praekelt Group, added: “Praekelt Foundation believes that access to essential information and basic services is a human right. When people have access to the tools and knowledge that the internet and other digital communication technologies provide, they have access to opportunities that will make their lives better.”
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