The following is a guest contributed post by Marco Veremis, CEO of Upstream.
Internet.org, Facebook’s latest effort to provide Internet to consumers around the world lacking connectivity, has seen various highs and lows since its launch. Although the services acquired over 800,000 users in India, concerns around net neutrality issues have been prominent. Because of this, many companies are reconsidering their partnership with Internet.org, meaning their content may no longer be accessible as-is to developing markets. Despite this, consumers in these regions such as India and Africa will continue to look for localized mobile content. This presents a huge opportunity for network operators to step in.
How Internet.org could have done better
Though Internet.org’s effort is admirable, critics have called attention to the fact that Facebook’s initiative lacks the ability to offer anything beyond what the Facebook app itself offers. However, this is not the only concern that has been brought to light. The lack of compliance with net neutrality is another element causing industry leaders to be critical of Internet.org, but it’s ability to provide connectivity to those who previously did not have it has also called into question.
According to reports, only 20 percent of Internet.org users did not have mobile Internet access prior to its launch, meaning Internet.org hasn’t reached many of those who are lacking access completely. Essentially, to utilize Internet.org’s services, one must already have knowledge of the Internet itself, defeating the purpose of providing a connection and content to consumers in emerging markets who have never before received access.
How the operator’s role is changing
The industry and interested consumers have seen companies like Airtel Zero and Internet.org step in to provide free access in emerging markets. As these services are capitalizing on the high need for content, network operators are considering their potential roll in providing content for growth regions such as Africa. Because of the limitations of these types of services – halting uncensored Internet access – network providers stepping in to provide consumers access to a full online inventory.
Moreover, seeing as mobile devices service as the main access point for Internet content and content consumption via mobile apps is at an all-time high, accounting for 52 percent of all digital media consumption, operators can meet expanding demand without the limitations of Internet.org.
The future landscape for content
Beyond stepping in to provide connections and content in emerging markets, there is an opportunity for network operators to create access to content that is locally relevant. We’ve found that 60 percent of consumers in emerging markets are reacting more favorably to mobile content – such as a news or social networking application – that is locally relevant, specifically where language and payment methods are concerned, than ever before. Network providers have an opportunity to ensure the content that is reaching these markets are relevant to the regions language and interests.
In addition to content that is of interest to emerging markets, it’s also essential that network providers provide payment options that are relevant to local consumers. Customers are willing to pay for Internet access, though they likely do not have access to mobile baking or credit card accounts. This provides an additional opportunity for network operators to act as a payment system in growth regions. By establishing direct operator billing capabilities, operators will be able to effectively monetize in emerging markets.
In short: the need for Internet access in emerging markets is specified by two requirements: non-restricted access to highly localized content, and payment opportunities that make sense for each region. With few services currently meeting both of these needs, network operators have an enormous opportunity to step in and capitalize in emerging markets.