In an effort to boost Internet usage in underdeveloped countries, Facebook yesterday said that it will provide free, but limited, Internet data access to mobile phone subscribers in the African nation of Zambia.

“Zambia for us is a very interesting country,” said Guy Rosen, a product management director at Facebook. “Internet penetration is 15 percent so there’s a lot of opportunity to expand productivity by making the Internet accessible to more people”.

The world's largest social network is teaming up with Bharti Airtel of India to provide the offering through mobile application Internet.org, which is named after the project developed by Facebook and six mobile phone companies including Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera Software, and Qualcomm, with an aim to bring affordable Internet access to everybody.

The application will provide more than a dozen free services including websites related to weather, job listings and health information, online encyclopedia Wikipedia, and of course, Facebook and its messenger. While smartphone users can install the application, feature phone users can go to the Internet.org website to access the services.

Existing Airtel users in Zambia, who already have the Android Facebook app installed, will see the free services as a menu option.

Earlier, at the Mobile World Congress this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had said, “The most expensive part about owning a smartphone and being connected to the Internet isn’t the smartphone; it’s the data”. The company's latest initiative aims to solve the problem by offering free data service to those who cannot afford it.

Rosen also said that Internet.org is planning to expand the application to more countries, with focus on nations having high growth and low Internet connectivity in Asia, Africa and Latin America.