Facebook and several partners founded Internet.org two years ago; it is already serving 7 million customers in Columbia, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, India and Zambia. Many of those who were originally connected for free are now paying some fee for more advanced data services.
Daniels, a vice president at Facebook in charge of Internet.org, said the conversion of free Internet users to paying customers is critical to the carriers who provide the Internet infrastructure that makes the service possible.
He sounded the same refrain that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg offered on Monday in a keynote presentation at MWC with three onstage carriers, including Airtel Africa, which has offered Internet.org in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. Millicom, another partner, saw a 30% increase in data users when free data data was launched in Paraguay.
While the goal of 100 countries in a year is ambitious, Daniels said it is achievable, partly because Internet.org has figured out how to work with carriers to offer online services for free that don't cannibalize the paid services that are the lifeblood of many carriers.
"It's ambitious to say 100 countries, but our focus is less on the number and to focus more on spreading Internet.org to added companies," he said. "We've had early partners and have brought more [users] online and more are paying for data and buying voice and SMS."
Some carriers have been skeptical; Jon Fredrik Baksaas, CEO of Telenor Group, said during the Zuckerberg appearance that initial successes need to be long-lasting to prompt widespread carrier adoption. Daniels said that Internet.org wants to operate in every country in the world, includings the U.S., where a digital divide affects many inner city and rural communities.
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