Feature Article

June 23, 2015

Providing Accessible Content to Emerging Markets: The Status of Internet.org and How Network Operators Can Step In

Recent research has showed us that 60 percent of consumers in emerging markets are reacting more favorably to mobile content (like a subscription based app for example) that is locally relevant, specifically where language and payment methods are concerned, than ever before. As mobile offerings become more prominent in emerging markets throughout regions such as Latin American and Africa, hyper-local content is being consumed with more frequency than other broader offerings. While content is in high demand, there is still a gap in broadband access for users in these regions and as a result network operators have an opportunity to make relevant content more accessible for consumers in emerging markets.  

Content consumption grows

Though we are seeing an increase in content consumption, there is a still a major challenge when it comes to Internet access in growth regions: the majority of consumers are unable to find data access they need to utilize content. Facebook has stepped in to meet consumer needs with its latest initiative, Internet.org, which provides free-of-charge Internet access to those lacking connectivity around the world. Its initial popularity, especially in regions such as Indonesia (where mobile Facebook use is at an all time high), proved the immense need for access tools such as Airtel Zero in developing areas. The tool gives consumers access to mobile applications without paying data fees. In turn, using Internet.org, consumers can access apps like Facebook and Google Search through its service.

Consumers in these markets are on the lookout for specific types of content. With interest largely lying in social networking, music and news, mobile content in these areas is consumed at a higher rate. Additionally, there is a growth opportunity for health services and business tools via mobile, as individuals in these regions have expressed a need for access to applications that promote this type of content in the future.

Where Internet.org fell short

Though Facebook’s intentions with Internet.org are noble, concerns around the service have been brought to the table. For instance, a primary pain point is that Internet.org doesn’t provide online access beyond access to Facebook itself. Critics claim there is a lack of compliance with net neutrality, which prevents emerging markets from having access to a full online inventory.

Beyond the concern of net neutrality, industry leaders find further issue with Internet.org due to the fact that in order to utilize the service to the fullest of its ability, one must have prior knowledge of the Internet. As only 20 percent of Internet.org users in India did not previously have access to mobile, the majority of users who do not have broadband access are not being reached, creating a gap of access in growth regions.

How network operators can step in

Consumers in emerging markets are looking for tools to enable Internet connection that do not include content limitations. In order to meet this need, network operators now have the opportunity to step in to provide craved localized content without the prohibition of limited access.

The question remains: will these Internet services in growing markets be offered by network operators free of charge? Services like Airtel Zero are providing data access for free, whereas other content providers are now finding success with subscription and one-time payment models, which alludes to the fact that free services aren’t necessarily the key to success in emerging markets. As long as content providers are supporting local payment methods, consumers in these markets will continue to pay for services.

Though consumers in growth markets are willing to pay for services, network operators still have obstacles to overcome where payment methods are concerned. The majority of potential smartphone users in emerging markets do not have access to banking or credit card accounts leaving no clear method of payment for mobile services.  

However there is further opportunity here for operators to step in and act as “proto-banks” since mobile phones operate via a pre-pay system. To monetize effectively in emerging markets, companies must establish direct operator billing capabilities, which act as the digital currency of the emerging markets.

Ultimately, the need around growing broadband access in emerging markets is two-fold: access itself and a source of hyper-local content. Though Facebook’s Internet.org has provided a stepping stone towards Internet access, there’s a greater opportunity for network providers to step up and provide not only wider access, but more hyper-local and ultimately desired content. By tuning into the consumer needs in these regions, operators will find enormous growth potential in emerging markets. 


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