Silicon Valley is showing great interest in India with the change of guard in the country. After Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft boss Satya Nadella it is time for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to visit India in this week.
This would be the first official visit for the Facebook founder who has shown interest in meeting Indian PM Narendra Modi. Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad confirmed to ET that Mark has sought meetings with the prime minister and other senior ministers between October 9 and 10.
If the meeting happens and it is very likely to happen considering Modi’s interest in social media and his Digital India vision, then Mark would be the second Facebook honcho to meet the PM. Earlier this year we saw Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg meet the Indian PM; she had said she considers India to be one of the biggest bets for Facebook’s future growth.
Talking about the meeting Sheryl stated on her Facebook, “Meeting Prime Minister Modi gave me the opportunity to express my personal appreciation to him for making the education of girls and women a priority as equal opportunity is essential for strengthening all economies and creating a just world. Exciting for our all-female delegation to #leanin with Prime Minister Modi.”
Talking about the interaction, she said that Modi stressed upon digital diplomacy as it can change national and international dialogues and that is why Modi plans to champion the free and open internet on the world stage.
Meeting PM Narendra Modi and other diplomats will be at the top of Mark’s list but there are other things that might fit into his itinerary to India.
1. Mark’s push for Internet.org in India
The other big reason for Mark’s visit to India is also about accelerating the push for his dream project, Internet.org. According to sources he will speak at the Facebook-promoted Internet.org’s Content and Usability Summit, which is being held in Delhi. The summit aims to focus on accelerating the creation and consumption of locally relevant content and value-added services in India.
Facebook realized pretty early that the future is mobile driven and its next billion users will come from emerging markets like India where internet penetration has been a challenge. India till date has less than 13% people accessing the internet. To overcome this problem and jump the red tape of government bureaucracy, Facebook launched project Internet.org that promises to bring internet to two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it.
3G network is yet to see great success rates even in developed countries, so to drive accessibility Facebook has now revealed its plans to bring Internet to the third-world via drones, satellites, lasers, and more.
Mark later stated that Facebook’s Connectivity Lab will work on the Internet.org project going forth. Both Connectivity Lab and Internet.org will be working in tandem to accomplish Facebook’s mission to bring internet to the 5 billion people who currently lack it.
Simultaneously, Facebook had tied up with FMCG giant Unilever for the Internet.org project. As part of the tie-up Internet.org and Unilever will carry out a comprehensive study to examine the opportunities to increase Internet adoption in rural communities. Apart from infrastructure and cost, which are known barriers to connectivity, the partnership will carefully evaluate other educational and cultural factors that also limit Internet use.
Both Unilever and Internet.org will leverage this research to inform the development of a series of on-the-ground projects with the aim of improving lives in rural India through better connectivity.
In fact during the recent acquisition of WhatsApp for $19 billion, Mark had shared that he wants the app to be the dial tone of the Internet. He also informed that the messaging app at some point will fuel the ambitions of the Internet.org project. His latest meeting with Mexico’s President Peña Nieto also focused around ways to work together on Internet.org to make affordable internet access available to everyone in Mexico. This would also be one of the core issues to be discussed when he meets Modi in the next few days.
2. Joining hands with Swach Bharat or Clean India Campaign
During this trip, the present Indian government will propose Facebook to partner for the recently launched ‘Swach Bharat’ or ‘Clean India’ campaign. However, there isn’t any confirmation from Facebook on this alliance.
Launched on 2nd October, Swach Bharat campaign or Clean India is one of PM Modi’s prized projects. Faintly inspired by the recent viral campaign “Ice Bucket Challenge” , the PM has nominated nine celebrities including cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, industrialist Anil Ambani and several actors to spread awareness on cleanliness and make ‘Swachh Bharat’ a people’s movement.
In addition, Modi has asked the above nominated people to nominate nine more people once their challenge is over to join the campaign and continue the chain. Among others nominated by the Prime Minister are actors Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Kamal Haasan, Goa governor Mridula Sinha, yoga guru Ramdev and the team of TV serial “Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma”.
The campaign is gradually gearing up and roping in Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be a big boost for the initiative. Mark’s ice bucket challenge video till date has gained more than 49K shares and more than 375K likes.
3. Strengthening the business confidence in India for Facebook
India is a big market for Facebook and it isn’t saturating like the developed markets such as US and Canada. Back in the first quarter Facebook shared that India crossed 100 million active users — the second country, after the United States. Out of which 84 million access the social networking site from their mobile devices.
It is a known fact that India is a big market for the social networking giant which is one of the most popular social networking site in the country. However, business wise Facebook is still struggling to build an environment like it has in developed countries.
Earlier this year, Facebook reported that in India it has witnessed a 63% rise in profits during the 2013 financial year. Facebook India reported profit after tax of about Rs 9.6 crore for the year ended March 2013, compared with Rs 5.9 crore the previous year.
While Facebook’s profit might be increasing on papers, it was reported by NBW that the revenue contribution by India is negligible (0.29%) even though it drives more than 8.2% of Facebook’s user base.
Facebook is well aware of the challenges in a market like India which has a very low internet penetration rate and is still ruled by feature phones. To increase revenue shares Facebook has been working on an ad product built around the missed call feature. So this trip could be also gaining more business confidence from the market, just as Sheryl’s did in her India trip.
4. Stronger ties with the government
Setting up local servers in the country by social networking giants has been a hanging issue from the last few years. The issue comes into focus whenever the country witnesses any communal clashes. We saw this happening during the recent riots in Pune, reported to have its roots in social media.
The present government had recently assured the Supreme Court that due to a spurt in online child abuse and sex crimes linked to pornography it will ask social networking sites - including Facebook, Google and Twitter to have servers in India so that authorities can keep tabs on objectionable content. While there is an ongoing debate on the same, Facebook wouldn’t like to set up servers as of now so having a stronger tie with the present government which is digitally inclined wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Besides this is the ongoing lobbying by telecom operators to frame a regulatory framework for messaging apps like WhatsApp that are eating into its profits. WhatsApp which was acquired by Facebook, is the leading messaging app in the country. While the debate of regulating and forcing messaging apps to pay connectivity charges to telecom companies and share revenue with the government as well, has been put on hold, Facebook meanwhile has made a very smart move by becoming a part of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).
Again this trip wouldn’t be a bad one for Mark to raise a toast with the telecom giants in the country and work out a way on how both can work together with the changing times.
Definitely it is a very important trip for Mark Zuckerberg and for India.