Mark Zuckerberg today through a Facebook post announced that all Reliance subscribers across India can now access free internet, for limited basic services, via Facebook's controversial Free Basics.
In October last year, Facebook had launched Internet.org to provide basic internet services for free of cost to Reliance customers in six Indian states -Tamil Nadu, Mahararashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, and Telangana. With this announcement from Zuckerberg, all Reliance subscribers across India can now have similar access.
The ambitious free internet project took plenty of flak on social media after experts questioned the intentions of Facebook on grounds of net neutrality.
Free Basics by Facebook app is available on all Android phones and the number of such free apps and websites has now been increased to over 80.
"We just took another step towards connecting India. As of today, everyone nationwide can access free Internet services for health, education, jobs and communication through Internet.org's Free Basics app on the Reliance network," Facebook chief Zuckerberg said in his post.
India has over eight lakh users under the Free Basics initiative.
Free Basics, which aims to bring free internet access to the developing world, has faced a backlash, with activists alleging that it violates network neutrality, the idea that all online traffic should be treated equally. In the past too, Zuckerberg has defended the programme, stating that Free Basics and Facebook are 100 per cent supportive of net neutrality.
Internet.org is live in more than 24 countries with 15 million users.
Citing the example of farmer Ganesh Nimbalkar and his wife Bharati from Maharashtra, Zuckerberg said Free Basics has helped the family double crop yield, eradicate insect infestations and invest in new crops and livestock.
"Ganesh struggled with traditional farming methods in a region plagued by droughts, but last year he started using Free Basics - accessing services like AccuWeather, which helped him work better through the monsoon season, and Reuters Market Light, which helped him understand commodity prices and get a better deal for his crops," he wrote.
Zuckerberg further said nearly one billion people are currently without Internet access in India.
"Now with Internet.org's Free Basics available to everyone in India, many more people like Ganesh and Bharati will have access to the information and opportunity the Internet brings," he added.