Colombia has become the first country in Latin America to benefit from Facebook's online philanthropy after the social networking giant launched an app allowing customers of mobile operator Tigo to use Internet services free of charge.
Developed through Facebook 's Internet.org initiative, the goal of which is to boost Internet adoption in emerging markets, the app will let Tigo subscribers access Facebook along with a range of other websites without incurring data-usage charges.
The other sites include Wikipedia as well as various government services providing information about education, health and local facilities.
The Internet.org app was first launched in July 2014 in Zambia, where it is being offered in partnership with India's Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), and has since been rolled out in Tanzania and Kenya. Tigo, a subsidiary of Luxembourg-headquartered Millicom International Cellular SA (Nasdaq: MICC) , is the mobile operator partner in Tanzania, while Airtel is also supporting the service in Kenya.
Facebook has presented Internet.org as a charitable, non-profit initiative but the web player obviously sees the benefits for its own business of lowering the barriers to Internet access in emerging markets.
For operators, the business case for giving away free Internet access is less clear -- charging for access is, after all, how service providers make their money -- although some operators believe a free taste of the web will persuade customers to part with cash for additional online services.
Moreover, Tigo could see the tie-up with Facebook as a way of luring customers from bigger rivals Claro (controlled by América Móvil S.A. de C.V. ) and Movistar (owned by Spain's Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF)).
Discussing Internet.org at last year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Marc Zuckerberg -- Facebook's CEO and founder -- said that trials carried out in with Filipino operator Globe Telecom Inc. and in Paraguay with Tigo had delivered "promising results".
Even so, other operators have sounded less than enthused about the initiative. Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) CEO Vittorio Colao was reported in early 2014 to have said that free access "does not make any sense" when approached by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on the topic.
Despite that, Facebook has been able to recruit a number of high-profile technology players to the Internet.org cause. Members now include Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), MediaTek Inc. (Taiwan: 2454), Opera Software ASA , Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM).
— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading