‘Internet growth in India will have a big global impact’

Thomas K Thomas New Delhi | Updated on October 09, 2014

MARK ZUCKERBERGFounder, Facebook

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s quest for the next billion Internet users has brought him to India for the first time. But given the lack of Internet connectivity and challenges related to affordability of services, he realises that Facebook needs to do much more than what it is doing today.

In an interaction with the media, Zuckerberg took questions on a wide range of issues, including freedom of speech, India’s potential and network neutrality. Edited excerpts:

You are going to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What will be the main point of discussion?

One of the things I am really excited about is the Prime Minister’s Digital India mission.

We want to figure out how we can plug into this mission. I am going to be interested in learning what we can do to help.

Facebook is the biggest Internet service worldwide and there are unique things where we can help out.

Other than the sheer number of people, what is it that makes India important for you?

Sheer numbers are an important part of it. You have different dynamics and different challenges in building tools and infrastructure for so many people.

So, if you can do it successfully in India then you can do it anywhere else. This is a country which is forward on science and engineering. I think the benefits of bringing connectivity to India are going to be profound. Because when you bring the Internet to India you are empowering people to build tools that can really improve the world. We, at Facebook, can play some role in making that happen.

You said you will spend billions on things like drones and satellites to ensure Internet access around the world. How do you react to critics who say that there are more important things than the Internet, such as toilets, food and water?

The Internet is an enabler of a lot of things. People use the Internet for health information, news, and weather. We are focused on the Internet because we understand the dynamics well.

We never say the Internet is important than food or water. But we, as Facebook, are better suited to provide the Internet than food or water.

You spoke of barriers to the Internet. In India, there is Section 66 of the IT Act under which people can be arrested just for liking a post. Do you think this a barrier?

We are focused on things we can do, which is making Internet access available to people around the world. Legal rules are a local thing.

We can help be a part of the debate but a company like ours is not into trying hard to change the local rules in any country.

Can you give an example of how Facebook overcame a specific barrier in India?

One of the things we are doing is to enable local language. India has great diversity of local languages. We now support 10 popular languages. We have more work to do there.

Any plans to monetise WhatsApp?

In the next few years, our focus is on connecting more people. Right now there are more than 600 million users on WhatsApp, we should have more than a billion people.

In the near time, there is no plan to monetise. Longer term we have ideas we are thinking about but it’s not a focus area.

How difficult is it to get telecom companies to collaborate in your scheme? What’s coming in the way of bringing this to India?

There are certain countries and certain operators who are forward leaning and want to try new things. So, we started in smaller countries where it’s easier to test things out. We are trying to build success stories in bringing more people on the Internet and to also make it profitable for telecom operators. Once we have these success stories over time then we can go to bigger players in bigger markets in countries like India.

India is an important market so we didn’t want to take a risk not doing it well. A lot of times leading operators may not be risk-taking compared to a challenger who wants to try a new thing first.

All we need is to find some folks and show that it works and then over time it becomes clear that it’s good for everyone. It’s still early days.

But isn’t such a partnership contrary to the values of network neutrality?

It is up to the operator to choose what service they want to include. It’s not necessary that Facebook needs to be included. We are only proving that this model can work.

If you were to start a company in India now what would it be?

When I got started with Facebook, it was all computers but now it’s all mobile. So, I will definitely look for an opportunity on the mobile. I also think there will be new forms of content, video will be huge. So, I would look for these openings.

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Published on October 09, 2014
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