Several heads of technology firms have been visiting India lately, starting with Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook, followed by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Facebook
CEO Mark Zuckerberg
is on a two-day visit to India, and on Thursday he spoke at the first summit for Internet.org
, an organisation led by Facebook
which hopes to bring Internet access to everyone in the world.
"In developing countries, 25 percent fewer women are online, compared to men," Mark Zuckerberg pointed out. "A lot of people who have never experienced the Internet just don't know why they would want it. A recent survey shows that 69 percent of people in India say they don't know why it would be useful for them."
To help increase adoption of the Internet, Mark Zuckerberg talked about building Internet.org as a "911 for the Internet."
"In the US, you can always dial 911 even if you don't have a phone plan, the way you dial 100 here [in India]," he said. "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."
: Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the 'dial tone for the Internet'
"India has shown the ability to make these leaps," he added. "The Green Revolution helped hundreds and millions out of poverty, and the computer revolution made India one of the only countries in the world to send a probe to Mars."
At the same time, he pointed out the fact that there are still many people in the country who are not connected to the Internet.
"The next generation has the opportunity to define the future and the key to this is going to be embracing the Internet," said Zuckerberg, describing connectivity as a fundamental right. "We have a long way to go to get there because only one-third of people have access to the Internet at all. Here in India, 248 million people are connected to the Internet and more than 100 million are on Facebook online, but there are still a billion people in India who don't have the same opportunities as everyone else."
He focused on how this problem can be solved, and pointed out that it wasn't simple enough to hope that the steady increase in connections. "It's easy to assume that it's just a matter of time before everyone is connected," he said, but added, "Infrastructure and economics are barriers but the biggest barriers are social. The lack of local, relevant content in you language can keep people off the Internet.
The idea behind Internet.org is to bring the next 5 billion people around the world online, and as a part of this, Mark Zuckerberg spoke at the first Internet.org summit, and will also meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi
to talk about the subject.
To provide free Internet access to people around the world, an Internet.org app will act as the gatekeeper to access the Web, and for areas where building infrastructure like towers and cables is not possible, Facebook has talked about building solar-powered drones, flying at 65,000 feet, to deliver Internet access.
Speaking at the summit on Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg reiterated the importance of connectivity in solving various problems.
"Technology isn't progress by itself. It enables progress - and it has to serve the whole of society," said Zuckerberg. "It needs to be an opportunity for everyone. Since last year, we have been working with Airtel to provide free basic Internet in Zambia
Connecting these people brought a large degree of change, Zuckerberg claimed.
"There were some amazing stories," said Zuckerberg. "An expecting mother looking up information about pregnancy and how to care for her child. An elderly man finding books to read online. A student who could use Wikipedia to save time and money when preparing for exams."
To help drive the adoption of the Internet, Zuckerberg is also focusing on local language content, and made two funding announcements to this end. "Today we're announcing a couple of new programs - [first] we're launching a contest to find the best app in local languages," said Zuckerberg.
"We've got a fund of $1 million (Rs. 6 crores approximately) to help developers build and scale apps that will help farmers and migrant workers and students and women, and we're going to fund top apps in each of these categories."
"We're also going to extend a program called FB Start," he added, "which provides $40,000 (Rs. 25 lakh approximately) to developers who build and develp apps in these categories."