Airtel Africa has announced a partnership with Facebook that will see the launch in Africa of Free Basics, a set of basic websites and services intended to introduce users to the internet and demonstrate how it can add value to their lives. The websites provide free health-, education- and finance-related information to people in developing countries. In the first phase, Free Basics will be launched by Airtel Nigeria, DRC, Gabon and Niger, followed by other Airtel Africa markets. Customers with an Airtel mobile connection will be able to access all the services that form part of Free Basics without extra charges for data or rental. Airtel Africa has been working with Facebook since 2014 to enhance accessibility to the internet in an affordable manner through the launch of Free Basics in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Seychelles and Rwanda.
Free Basics is part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, aimed at bringing internet access to underserved developing areas. Both Facebook and its MNO partners, such as Airtel, have a strong interest in increasing internet use, which generates revenue in a variety of ways. Free access for populations that currently use the internet very little or not at all and are not aware of its advantages is a loss leader that will very likely yield a substantial dividend in future. The other half of the equation is growing affluence in African markets served by Airtel; in the coming years, people who have been introduced to the internet via Free Basics will spend their increasing disposable income on paid data services.