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Zuckerberg on Facebook’s India plans

NEW DELHI: Founder-CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook is creating a $1 million fund to help developers develop apps for farmers, migrants and women. This will be a contest to drive new apps and services in local languages.

Zuckerberg, who is on a two-day trip to India, today addressed the first Internet.org summit on 9 October in New Delhi.

ZuckerbergSpeaking at the summit, Zuckerberg highlighted the importance of the internet in India. He stated that over one billion people do not have access to the internet in India.

Zuckerberg will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi tomorrow to discuss how Indian villages can be given access to the internet.

The Facebook boss indicated that what stops most users in India to access the internet is the lack of relevant local-language content.

“This is what keeps the internet restricted to a limited section of the society. To fill the gap, Facebook is working in rural India to improve internet connectivity,” he said.

He said that the whole world is being robbed of creativity and ideas because so many people in India are not online. “243 million people in India are on the net. A huge area is unconnected. India has embraced the internet, but has a long way to go,” he stated.

However, he praised India for making leaps in revolutions that changed the world, and how Mangalyaan is a huge achievement for India.

Emphasising the need for the internet, Zuckberg said that when people are connected, accomplishments are easy; connected people have better access to technology, education and jobs.

Stressing the importance of enhancing internet connectivity in India, he said, “Connectivity can’t be restricted to just the rich and powerful. Cost of internet access has to be made affordable.”

“India is an amazing country with unlimited potential. We see a lot of growth for us here. Tomorrow I’m meeting the Prime Minister. He is committed to connecting villages online and we are excited to see how Facebook can help,” Zuckerberg added.

He also pitched for free ‘basic net access’, by calling for a ‘911 for internet’, stating that it should be like dialling 911 in the US or 100 in India.

Zuckerberg is of the opinion that lowering data costs by operators is not a sustainable solution. The biggest barrier to the internet is infrastructure followed by technical issues. Language barriers are huge impediments to the internet, he added.

He went on to say that Facebook is working on ‘few basic services’ on the net without a telcom plan. “Local-language content is crucial to internet penetration in Asia, India. Facebook is focusing on content in local languages,” he said.

He also highlighted a few interesting facts such as that 25 per cent fewer women are connected compared to men; 80 per cent of content on the internet are 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.

The summit aims to make internet access affordable for people. 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. The summit is thus bringing together experts, officials and industry leaders to focus on ways to deliver more internet services for people in languages other than English.

Zuckerberg’s visit to India comes three months after the visit of COO Sheryl Sandberg. India happens to be the second biggest market for Facebook.