Why is India on Facebook founder Zuckerberg’s radar?

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 29, 2015 02:24 IST
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to India comes at a time the social media giant is looking to aggressively expand its footprint in the country. (Reuters Photo)

With more than 132 million users, India is Facebook’s largest market outside the US. This is the reason why the network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg is making such a push in the country.

For more than a year, Facebook has been pushing its package of basic internet services called Free Basics (formerly Internet.org) in India, billing it as an initiative to bring internet access to people in developing countries who cannot afford to pay for data.

China’s massive online population is shielded behind the “Great Firewall” and this makes India the most important foreign market for the Menlo Park giant. Here are some important bits of information about Facebook and its engagement with India:

1. Over 132 million users

Facebook has an Indian user base of more than 132 million, trailing only the 193 million in the US. More than 90% of Indian users access the social network site from mobile phones. According to the stats, more than 50% of internet users in India use Facebook. There are currently 1.5 million small or medium businesses in India with Facebook pages, marking a 70% year-on-year growth.

2. Free Basics (formerly Internet.org)

Free Basics is an initiative by Facebook that claims it will bring the next billion people online by providing them free access to a limited section of the internet. Critics argue that this move splits the open internet into free and paid tiers and goes against the concept of net neutrality, which says all data on the internet should be treated equally.

3. Small advertising footprint

Facebook earns 15 cents a user in India every quarter, compared to the $7 to $8 it makes on each US user, according to a report by Reuters. Facebook does not break out its revenues in India, but Neil Shah, an analyst at Counterpoint Research, a Hong Kong-based technology consulting firm, estimates it brings in $15 million a quarter in India, far behind the $350 million he estimates Google earns in the country per quarter. Facebook is trying to lure sceptical advertisers in India with features such as free email support for questions about advertising and advice on increasing sales to boost revenue from its second biggest market.

4. ‘2G Tuesdays’

To get a better understanding of what it is to use Facebook in emerging markets like India, the company has started a new initiative called “2G Tuesdays”. As the name suggests, 2G Tuesdays will encourage Facebook employees to use the social network as well its Messenger app at 2G speeds. This lets them experience first-hand how it feels to use the products on slower and unstable connections, and what they can do to improve things.

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