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Facebook Partners With Airtel to Offer Free Internet in Zambia

Facebook Inc. and Bharti Airtel Ltd. of India formed a partnership to provide free Internet services including Wikipedia in Zambia, according to Guy Rosen, a product management director at Facebook.

The offering will be provided through mobile application, named after a project developed by the world’s biggest social networking site to expand Internet access to the 5 billion people yet to go online.

“Zambia for us is a very interesting country,” Rosen said yesterday by phone from Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. “Internet penetration is 15 percent so there’s a lot of opportunity to expand productivity by making the Internet accessible to more people.”

Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile-phone operator, will offer free data to its Zambian subscribers through the application for services including Accuweather, health and jobs sites as well as Wikipedia, Rosen said.

Airtel, as the local unit is known, competes with Johannesburg-based MTN Group Ltd. in Zambia, Africa’s second-biggest copper producer where the economy is expected to grow 6.5 percent this year., in which mobile-device makers Samsung Electronics Co., Nokia Oyj and chip-maker Qualcomm Inc. are also partners, plans to expand the application to more countries, Rosen said. The focus will be on nations with high growth and low Internet connectivity in Asia, Africa and Latin America, he said.

‘We believe Africa has a lot of potential,’’ Rosen said. “It’s a fascinating market; there’s a lot of untapped opportunities.”

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