Millicom Blogs

Creating a new generation of internet users with Internet.org

Millicom's lead specialists regularly report on important changes taking place within their own areas of expertise. As the company continues to focus on digital inclusion, Senior Executive Vice President of Latin America, Mario Zanotti, examines the impact of Millicom's partnerships with Internet.org, the most recent of which was announced in Guatemala last week.

30 March 2015: With the mobile revolution of recent years, mobile operators have been conducting various high-profile experiments with “zero-rated” internet access models, such as digital partnerships with Facebook, Google (Free Zone), Spotify and Viber.

This year’s Mobile World Congress (#MWC15) in Barcelona shed some useful light on both the rewards and the challenges they face.

The big key question is whether zero-rating will sustainably get more people to the internet, thereby increasing digital inclusion, or whether this is simply a tactic to shift market shares amongst operators.

Also important is the need to safeguard the open nature of the internet, with or in spite of these models.

Millicom’s partnership with Facebook’s Internet.org is a case in point.

Guatemala has become the latest country to enjoy free-of-charge access for mobile customers to a range of websites, through Tigo. We have launched similar Internet.org partnerships in Tanzania and Colombia as well as a Facebook-for-free campaign in Paraguay in December 2013.

Because we specialize in serving emerging markets, where internet penetration overall averages just 23 per cent, we bring fresh perspective to any key discussion.

In partnership with Internet.org, we are presenting opportunities for consumers, regardless of their income group, to experience online services, manage data usage and join this increasingly digital world for the first time. 

Fine-tuning this new internet entry-point business model has led to some startling data. 

In Colombia, where Tigo’s promotional campaign is only just underway, our free mobile internet and internet.org range of services already average 290,000 users a month (January and February 2015). One in ten were first time internet or mobile data users. 

In Paraguay, we witnessed a 36 per cent rise in consumers using the service daily after the promotional campaign ended, compared to levels before it was launched.

In Tanzania, Tigo’s monthly average number of users accessing internet.org sites is currently 126,000. Popular services include BBC and SuperSport

Internet.org, in other words, is one effective way to give people that first experience online, for them to discover how it can transform the way they work, run their business, socialize, enjoy and share ideas. In turn, they can then decide whether to become regular internet users.

Of course, this model is not the only way.

Digital inclusion also means providing readily available, affordable handsets in all our markets. It means risk and heavy investment in order to build and upgrade reliable mobile networks. (We currently invest on average $100 million each month on improving infrastructures.)

Inevitably, there are challenges. Yet we believe the new initiatives we share with Internet.org are crucial for the advancement of the industry, and progress of society, in general.

Especially in our markets, where population growth remains high and a critical mass of young, tech-savvy people interested in the services we provide exists. During the MWC15, Mark Zuckerberg told audiences “to not lose sight of the fact that the ones that are driving this (internet penetration) are the operators.” He drew attention to the fact that in the age of smartphones, telecom operators have the ability and responsibility to advance digital inclusion. We at Millicom will continue to meet it. 

*The promotion began in January 2015. It continues at time of publication, therefore retention results are still to be measured.

**A report by Deloitte LLP for Facebook Inc estimates that a ten per cent increase in broadband penetration results in a 1.38 per cent increase in a country’s GDP.