Jana on Thursday announced it has raised US$57 million in Series C funding, enabling it to continue its plans to connect developing countries to the Web.
Verizon Ventures led the funding round, with backing from Spark Capital and Publicis Groupe.
The backing will give Jana — which provides free, unrestricted Internet access to more than 30 million people in emerging markets — the boost it needs to connect its next billion users, according to company spokesperson Meagan Ward.
“The investment will help fuel Jana’s plans to expand into China, bolster mobile and brand partnerships, and grow their global footprint and team,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
Jana also announced that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has accepted a position on the company’s advisory board.
“By 2020, more than 5 billion people will be mobile, and new, engaging ways to access data will become increasingly important worldwide,” he said.
Jana has been going up against efforts launched by Google and Facebook, both of which have been working out ways to beam Internet to remote and underserved regions of the world via aircraft.
Facebook’s Free Basics initiative, formerly Internet.org, began launching a ground offensive via mobile infrastructure.
Free Basics has come under fire in countries such asIndia for its perceived violation of net neutrality, as it has sought to lower startup costs by offering Internet access to its partner sites, leaving out other organizations.
Jana appears to have had more success in delivering its flavor of free Internet to the developing world than Free Basics. The company has twice the reach of Free Basics in India, and its mobile advertising platform is second only to Google there, according to Jana.
In Neutral or in Drive
While there has been heavy pushback against free Internet initiatives, baby steps are better than no progression at all, according to Richard Stiennon, chief research analystIT-Harvest.
“I’ve been to a lot of high-level meetings in developing countries,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “They struggle with how they’re going to join the digital revolution and see all the benefits developed countries receive from the Internet, and yet they still have regulated telecom environments.”
Stiennon began working with Internet service providers in 1993, he said, so he has seen firsthand the benefits of freeing telecom companies from overbearing legislation.
The big change that made the Internet “take off was telecom deregulation and removing the per-minute charge for telephone access,” he noted.
While he can appreciate what Facebook and Free Basics are trying to do, he’s also sympathetic to those who champion a neutral Internet in India and other emerging economies, Stiennon said.
A good bit of fearmongering may be hampering Facebook, he added.
“Sure, Facebook is a giant company, and yes, it’ll be able to push ads to people when they’re using the free service,” Stiennon said. “But you’re connecting people to the Internet, and I think that’s always a good thing as long as access to information isn’t restricted after that. You should be able to gain access to anything that’s available online.”