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India is key to connect billions across the world to the Internet: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

He was referring to the over 1 billion of India’s 1.2 billion population without an Internet connection, although most of them have mobile phones.

ET Bureau|
Updated: Feb 10, 2015, 06.56 PM IST
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MUMBAI: India is the key to connect billions across the world to the Internet, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said, as the social networking giant tied up with Reliance Communications to launch the Internet.org app in a country where smartphone sales growth is among the fastest globally.

The app will offer users access to free basic Internet services for health, education, jobs and communication.

“One day, we will connect everyone, and the power of the Internet will serve every community across India and the world. That day is coming,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “But to continue connecting the world, we have to connect India.”

Zuckerberg was referring to the over 1 billion of India’s 1.2 billion population without an Internet connection, although most of them have mobile phones. As of December end, India had almost 944 million mobile phone users. Comparatively, India had over 243 million Internet users at the end of last year, of which 86 million had broadband access.

He recounted his visit in October to Chandauli, a small village in northern India, which recently got connected to the Internet. Students at a computer centre in the village were learning to use the Internet for the first time. “Knowledge and tools were starting to make life better for everyone,” he said.

Facebook intends to take this initiative forward through the launch of Internet.org initially in six states - Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Telangana - and then gradually across the country.

This is the first time the Internet.org app will be available in the region. Internet.org is an initiative to provide Internet access to those who don’t have it, along with free basic services.

Gurdeep Singh, Reliance Communications’ chief executive (wireless business), estimated that about 60 million users will experience data for the first time through this application.

“For me, even if this brings customer loyalty and reduces churn, it is worthwhile,” said Singh. The company has a high number of customers that leave and enter the network. Getting a new user is associated with costs typically equivalent to three months of customer spends on the network.

Internet.org provides access to popular websites and services with zero data charges in order to make it easier for people to access the Internet, across both 2G and 3G platforms, the two companies said in a joint statement.

RCom customers in the six states will now have access to more than three dozen services ranging from news, maternal health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication and local government information. Besides accessing Facebook, RCom subscribers can also browse 33 websites.

“Over the last year, we’ve rolled out Internet.org free basic services to countries with more than 150 million people total across Africa and Latin America,” Zuckerberg said. “More than 6 million people are already connected to the Internet who previously weren’t.”

Facebook has tied up with Bharti Airtel to offer Internet.org in two African countries.

RCom customers in India can access these services in the Internet.org Android app at www.internet.org from the start screen of the Opera Mini mobile web browser and using the Android app UC Browser for Internet.org. For other phones, the service can be used directly through the browser. Most of the services will be available in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati and Marathi.

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