New Delhi: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg presently visiting India, held his first Townhall address in IIT Delhi today. The tech billionaire hosted a Q&A at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, where about 900 students attended the event.
PM Modi during his US visit this year in September met Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
At the Q&A session at IIT, Zuckerberg said, “It’s great to be here in India; the energy here is awesome. The first Townhall Q&A, I am so excited to be here”. “Our mission at Facebook is to connect people in the world”.
India is home to the greatest number of Facebook users in the world. About 137 million Indians use Facebook after US, which has about 194 million users. India has over 302 million Internet subscribers (TRAI, March 2015) of which much still remains unexplored for Facebook. It is expected that India will soon surpass US as the second largest smart phone market in the world, which makes it another reason for companies like Facebook to try and gain maximum benefit from this opportunity.
Zuckerberg is also here to promote Facebook’s new initiative called, ‘Internet.org’ bringing together technology leaders, non-profits and local communities to connect the remaining two thirds of the world that does not have Internet access.
This new initiative by Facebook is to provide free basic services in markets where Internet access may be less affordable. This they will do through their Free Basics Platform. The Platform allows people to browse health, employment and local information websites without data charges. Free Basics is currently available in parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia, and will continue to expand to more countries around the world.
Here are some excerpts from Mark’s talk at the IIT Townhall today:
Q. Why are you showing so much interest in India? Answer honestly.
MZ: Our mission is to give everyone in the world the power to share what is important to them and to connect every person in the world. And India is the world’s largest democracy. It is one of the biggest countries, where if one really has a mission of connecting every person in the world, you cannot do that without helping to connect everyone in India.
We think of this in two ways. First, there are already more than 130 million people in India who use Facebook. It is one of the largest communities and I take this responsibility very seriously to serve people in India. I am here to talk to the people and to know what they need from me. To know how well we are and what I can improve, which is a huge thing that I need to do for the community. The second part is that there are a billion people in India who do not have access to Internet yet, and if you care about connecting everybody in the world then you can’t do that if there are so many people who don’t even have access to basic connectivity.
Internet is really a tool that provides some vital infrastructure for your life. It can provide educational information for people who do not have access to good schools, provide health information on how to avoid diseases for those who don’t have access to doctors, and help folks to search jobs.
So there is a tremendous opportunity in India. If there are a billion who are not connected, then this is one of the biggest opportunities to develop the economy, help eliminate poverty and lift up a lot of folks.
I actually think that connecting people in India is one of the important things that I can do for the whole world, because it’s not just improving the lives of people here that getting access to Internet will have. The ideas entrepreneurs and students have here that the rest of the world doesn’t have access to today, because those folks don’t have the ability to share what they know. Every other person in the world is currently robbed of that opportunity, because folks do not have that opportunity that they need here to create companies and opportunities they want.
I really want to get the next billion people online and if I can play a role in either of those things then that’s something I personally care a lot about and that’s why I am so excited to be here.
Q. How do you wish to connect those who are not on Facebook or Internet?
MZ: Internet.org is a program to spread Internet connectivity, which is growing in 24 countries the world. There are 15 million people around the world who have access to Internet now because of the efforts we are taking with Internet.org, which would not have happened otherwise. So I feel connecting 15 million people with the Internet around the world is a good impact. And if you believe these stats, what I have seen is for every 10 people getting the access to the Internet, it creates a new job and helps to eliminate poverty. I feel it’s a pretty good impact. I have found that in places where there is an access to Free Basic (platform) services, the rate of people getting on the Internet has doubled.
I know that this will work and connect more people. In terms of how exactly it works, there are three reasons why people might not have access. One is availability, the second is affordability and the third is awareness. So basically I want to break down all these barriers. On availability there are a lot of places in the world where there is no network and it’s also expensive to have the traditional infrastructure installed, therefore one has to invent new ways to deliver connectivity like solar powered planes that can fly up in the air and beam down for connectivity.
For affordability, I am very focused in making our apps and other apps use less data. The Facebook app now uses 1/10 of the amount of data than it used to. So that’s a big deal.
For awareness what I have done is introduced this Free Basics program, through which people can have access to not the richest kind of media but the basic utilities like information about health, education, jobs. I have found that it ends up being very useful as people use those things that they get on the Internet and then within a month’s time those who have tried Free Basics realize why the Internet is so great and why they want to use it.
So the goal of the Free Basics program is not just to provide free basic services to everyone but also to give this on ramp, so that they can start experiencing and eventually enroll on the Internet service.
Later, Zuckerberg also shared his views on net neutrality and said, “We support net neutrality completely. Advocate for it and count on us to be supportive. We just need to push for more access. It is important to have net neutrality regulations. Some countries are still trying to figure out all rules and regulations. But we need strong rules regarding the same”.
On being asked about the annoying Candy Crush game requests Zuckerberg said, “that it is being looked into”.
Zuckerberg also said that he takes the accessibility feature on Facebook very seriously. He talked about some of the international investments like creating new type of schools in Africa, and hoping to expand in India sometime soon in the future as well.
On being asked by a random student, what was his ‘Eureka’ moment when he actually founded Facebook, Zuckerberg said, “I built Facebook for my college community because I wanted to be able to connect to the people at my school”.
Concluding with an inspiring message to the students and professionals, Zuckerberg said, "Focus on what you want to do in the world and the impact and what you want to change".
Zuckerberg also visited the ‘Taj Mahal’ city, Agra and marveled at the structure, calling it "even more stunning than I expected."His Facebook update said, “I always wanted to see the famous white marble mausoleum built in the 1600s by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for the tomb of one of his wives.”
"It's incredible what people can build — and what love can motivate us to build," Zuckerberg wrote.