Telecom major Bharti Airtel and social media giant Facebook on Monday announced the launch of the Free Basics zero-rating Internet access platform across 17 African countries in phases by March 2016. "We are excited to continue our partnership with Airtel in bringing more people online. More than one billion people have access to Internet.org's free basic services across Asia, Africa and Latin America today. Our intention is to help the people in Africa access relevant basic services," Internet.org Vice President Chris Daniels said in a statement. The Free Basics service, which has been in midst of neutrality debate, offers free access to a set of basic websites and services with objective to introduce people to the Internet. These websites provide free health, education and finance-related information. Airtel Africa had already been working with Facebook since 2014 in enhancing accessibility to the Internet in an affordable manner through the launch of Free Basics in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Seychelles and Rwanda. In the first phase, Free Basics will be launched in Airtel Nigeria, DRC, Gabon and Niger followed by other Airtel Africa markets. Customers with an Airtel mobile connection will be able to access all the services that form part of Free Basics without paying extra for data charges or rental. "We are cognizant of the power of internet in changing lives of communities and this partnership with Facebook will aid in bringing more people online and reduce the digital divide," said Airtel Africa MD and CEO Christian de Faria. Airtel customers currently using the Internet.org application and mobile website will be able to continue using the Android app, though it will now be called Free Basics by Facebook in Google Play and the mobile web version will redirect users from the previous Internet.Org web address to Free Basics website, the statement said.