Exactly a month after he hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will hold a town hall Q&A at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi on Wednesday.
Zuckerberg will interact with students and faculty at IIT Delhi and is expected to speak for about 15 minutes before answering questions from the audience for an hour. According to a report, one in every nine IIT students selected through a lottery will get entry to the hall, which has a seating capacity of 1,110. Facebook received over 3,500 applications through a link posted to the IIT website.
With over 130 million users, India is Facebook’s largest market outside the United States. For more than a year, Facebook has been trying to push its free package of basic internet services called Free Basics (formerly Internet.org) in the country, billing it as an initiative to bring internet access to people in developing countries who can’t afford to pay for data.
The package, which includes news articles, job listings, health information, and a stripped-down, text-only version of Facebook, has been criticised by activists in India for breaking net neutrality principles by splitting the internet into paid and free tiers. In May, major partners like NDTV and Cleartrip pulled out of Facebook’s programme, stating that they believed it violated net neutrality.
Against this backdrop, Zuckerberg’s visit to India is significant, and some say a sign of desperation. Free Basics is now available in 25 countries including Indonesia, Panama, Jakarta, and Pakistan, but its acceptance in one of its largest market is important for Facebook.
Zuckerberg has already landed in India and on Wednesday posted pictures of his visit to the Taj Mahal on Facebook.