Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off a two-day visit to India on Thursday with an aim to lead initiatives to make basic Internet services free for hundreds of millions of poor people, using fancy technologies such as solar planes that would beam down information to make it happen.
“We believe connectivity is a human right,” Zuckerberg told technology and business leaders at a speech to evangelise Internet.org, a Facebook initiative that aims to proliferate the Internet. “You need something like 911 (US emergency phone line) for the Internet…”.
The 30-year-old worth US $30 billion ( Rs 1.8 lakh crore) after his social network company went public in a blockbuster share issue is due to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday and likely discuss ways to link development objectives with his own digital projects that indirectly boost his advertisement-linked social media business as more people clamber on to the Net.
Clad in navy blue jeans and a dark grey T-shirt and not looking much different from the times he co-founded the company as a Harvard University student, Zuckerberg said studies had shown that infrastructure, affordability and social barriers such as lack of local language content were blocking the spread of the Internet and his company was working on methods to remove these obstacles. These include invention of technologies that boost efficiency of data traffic.
Facebook already has 108 million of India’s 243 million Internet users on its network, second only to the US where it has about 180 million. The company plans to partner with telecom service providers to grow further. It also announced a contest to boost local content and services that would bring poorer sections such as migrant workers, farmers and students access the Net.
Zuckerberg told a news conference that India had a rich culture and history in science, education and research and “the effect of connectivity here is going to be very profound.”
Zuckerberg tried to steer clear of controversial issues such as Section 66 of India’s Information Technology Act that allows authorities to crack down on Internet content perceived as objectionable –something in which free speech activists want his support.
“It is a very local thing,” he said, saying Facebook believed in complying with local laws and its legal team would deal with the issue. “We are not an Indian company. (But) we would like to be part of the debate.” Facebook is blocked in China.