Internet connectivity is a ‘human right’, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared on Thursday as he began a high-profile visit to India aimed expanding the reach of the social media network he founded.
“We want to build an internet that works for all. Connectivity is a human right and we want to empower the young of India”, said Zuckerberg.
The fresh-faced tech tycoon also called for content creators in India to produce more content in local language as a means of achieving greater connectivity outside India’s big cities where internet access and social media-savvy is far more widespread.
Zuckerberg was speaking in New Delhi after the launch of a new initiative aimed at bringing the internet to the two-thirds of the world’s population who don’t have access to the world wide web.
www.internet.org is a partnership between Facebook and technology giants Ericsson, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, MediaTek and Samsung and aims to improve affordability and efficiency in the delivery of internet services to households across India and elsewhere in the world.
Ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, Zuckerberg called on the Indian government to help internet.org in developing ‘joint projects, share knowledge and mobilize industry’ to bring all of India online.
Economic and infrastructure-related factors mean that less than 20% of India’s 1.2 billion-strong population is connected to the internet. Some 100 million of those people have Facebook profiles.
Fifteen of the country’s population remain outside the range of a 3G or 2G network whilst the widespread poverty means that luxuries such as an internet connection is beyond the means of more than half of India’s population.
The biggest barrier to connectivity penetration in India, according to Zuckerberg, is a lack of “social and cultural acceptance”.
Zuckerberg is the latest high-profile tech industry figure to visit India in recent months following Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, since the election of Prime Minister Narednra Modi earlier this year.
Mr Modi has long been a champion of technology and the use of technology to alleviate poverty.
Zuckerberg is a great proponent of a future that is mobile-driven and is certain that Facebook’s next billion users will come from countries such as India and the Far East.
Among plans unveiled by internet.org to bring accessibility to people outside the ‘grid’ in places such as India are internet-connected drones, satellites and lasers.
Quite apart from the technological aspect, Facebook and internet.org will also look at education, including instructional workshops in rural areas and teaching school children the benefits of connectivity.
The Prime Minister and Zuckerberg are also expected to discuss Mr Modi’s recent ‘Clean India’ campaign which aims to empower people to clean up their neighbourhoods and communities.
The PM is said to be keen on utilizing Facebook to spread word of the campaign and has already enlisted the help of Salman Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, minister Shashi Tharoor and billionaire Anil Ambani among others.