Today in Barcelona, Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg returned to GSMA’s Mobile World Congress to kick off the event with a fireside chat with journalist Jessi Hempel. Mark gave an update on Facebook’s efforts to bring internet access to the two-thirds of the world not yet connected, and was joined onstage by operator partners Jon Fredrik Baksaas, President & CEO of Telenor, Christian De Faria, CEO of Airtel Africa, and Mario Zanotti, SVP of Operations, Millicom.

Over 90% of the global offline population lives in developing countries and for the past year Facebook has worked with mobile operators to grow the number of people accessing the internet. Through the Internet.org app, more than 500 million people in six countries can now access useful health, employment and local information services without data charges.

As part of these tests, we’ve seen free basic services help get more people online while opening up new opportunities for operators.

Here are a few takeaways from our efforts over the last year:

  • Nearly 7 million people used mobile data for the first time as a direct result of our partnerships
  • In countries where we’ve launched the Internet.org app, the rate of acquisition of new data customers for operators increased by at least 40%
  • The number of people using data on Tigo’s network in Colombia increased by 50%, and Tigo’s monthly smartphone sales grew 10X in Tanzania since the launch of Internet.org
  • In Zambia, Kenya and Ghana, Airtel saw the number of people using data and data usage increase, and both voice and SMS activity grew across Africa

Below are a few highlights from Mark’s remarks during the discussion:

Facebook’s role in connecting more people to the internet:

  • “We can help because Facebook is one of the primary apps people want to use, so therefore it drives data usage and means we can effectively partner with operators in order to accelerate the growth of their businesses.”

Working with operators:

  • “The reason why we’re here in Barcelona is because the folks who are here, who are part of this industry, are the ones leading the charge to connect everyone in the world and have been for decades. There’s a long legacy and history and sense of mission in the industry. And that’s why these folks are doing all the work to lay the fiber and build the towers to actually get this done.”

The success of Internet.org to date:

  • “The overwhelming feedback we’re hearing from our partners is that it works. It grows the internet and grows their business. Those are the two things we set out to work with partners to do and we’re really excited.”

On Facebook’s Connectivity Lab efforts to connect the most remote locations:

  • “We’re working on it. When we have that stuff the goal is to form the same sort of partnerships we have today to give our partners more tools to cost-effectively connect more people.”