Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, "Connectivity can’t be restricted to just the rich and powerful. Cost of internet access has to be made affordable," while putting stress on the importance of enhancing internet connectivity in India.
Zuckerberg is in India on a two-day visit and was speaking at the first summit for Internet.org, an organisation led by Facebook.
To discuss connecting Indian villages to the internet and Facebook’s role in doing so, Zuckerberg has said that he would meet PM Narendra Modi on 10 October.
Pitching for free ‘basic net access’, Zuckerberg reckoned that it should be like dialing 911 in the US or 100 here in India. “There needs to be a 911 for the internet. We’ve been working with operators to offer free basic internet for everyone, to break down the social barriers. With this model, we’ve already helped people connect 3 million people."
He also announced that Facebook will fund apps and services in local Indian languages for women, students and farmers. He pointed out that only about a third of people in the world has access to the Internet – 243 million in India. The biggest barrier, he said, was that lots of people who have never experienced the internet don’t know why they need it.
He also added that lack of relevant local language content is why most Indians don’t use internet and Facebook is working extensively in rural India to enhance connectivity.
"Facebook is focusing on content in local languages. It is crucial to internet penetration in Asia, especially India," said the 30-year-old billionaire. “80 per cent of content on the internet is just in 10 languages, while there are 22 official languages in India; 65 per cent of people use Facebook in a language other than English, including 10 Indian languages.”
Facebook has launched a new contest to develop local apps for farmers and social services in local languages with a $1 million fund dedicated for it.
"We’re also going to extend a program called FB Start," he added, "which provides $40,000 to developers who build and develop apps in these categories," he added.
The CEO is of the opinion that lowering data costs by operators is not a sustainable solution. "Mobile operators invest a lot of money, lowering costs is not easy," he said. "Infrastructure is the biggest barrier to internet, then technical issues. Language barriers are huge impediments to the internet," he added.
"Connected people have better access to technology, education and jobs. When people are connected, accomplishments are easy," Zuckerberg said.
Internet.org aims to make internet access affordable for people across the globe. Focused on enabling the next five billion people without internet access to come online, the founding members of the project include Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung.
The partners are collaborating on developing lower-cost, higher-quality smartphones and deploying internet access in under-served communities.
Zuckerberg’s visit comes three months after Sheryl Sandberg, COO of the social networking giant, visited India which is Facebook’s second biggest market. She also met Modi, who has effectively used social networking during his election campaign and later even in governance.