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Facebook CEO defends effort to expand Internet access

Facebook CEO defends effort to expand Internet access
Speaking at his first Townhall in India, the Facebook CEO said the world’s largest social network is working both in terms of supporting regulations around that principle and building an open platform for developers.

When asked if Facebook supports net neutrality, Zuckerberg said: “Absolutely. Net neutrality is an important principle. We do a lot to support both in terms of regulation and in our own work building an open platform that any developer can build something for, regardless of who they are, if they follow the basic rules.” 

On his second visit to India in a year, he was quizzed by some of India’s brightest young minds at a question and answer session at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, as he attempted to deepen Facebook’s links with a country that provides its largest group of users outside the US. 

Even though there are 130 million Facebook users in India, Zuckerberg cited that there were several hundreds who do not have access to the Internet and hence, went on to discuss how accessibility can resolve India’s problem of education, health and unemployment. Zuckerberg further added that through Internet accessibility, ideas from India could be shared and spread around the world. 

Speaking on the success of Internet.org, Zuckerberg said it aims to bring free Internet access to the developing world. But this has faced a backlash with activists alleging that it violates network neutrality, the idea that all online traffic should be treated equally. “Internet.org and Facebook are 100 per cent supportive of net neutrality, we lobby for it across the world, we build an open platform with no filtering but at the same time we also need to make sure that we continue to push for access,” Zuckerberg said. For the availability, Facebook is mulling to launch solar-powered planes and satellite beams. Speaking on the impact of the application of “Free Basics”, Zuckerberg mentioned that it was trying to make Internet more affordable by using 1/10th of the data limit and using low bandwidth. 

He said providing free Internet to everyone in the world is expensive and telecom operators spend billions each year bringing Internet to users.

“What we are really trying to do is to use Free Basics (previously known as Internet.org) so that any developer who can give low bandwidth services for free can be zero-rated.” 

On zero-rating plans of telecom firms like Bharti Airtel, Zuckerberg said: “But to those who advocate against zero- rating I say look at a student who wants free access to the Internet for her studies.

“Who gets hurt by that? Around the world, all the regulations are honouring this principle. Prioritising zero-rating is necessary to connect everyone to the Internet. Facebook and Internet.org support net neutrality 100 per cent, but we also need to push for access.” 

Highlighting the importance of the Indian market for the world’s largest social media firm, Zuckerberg said the country plays a huge role in its “mission of connecting a billion people” to the Internet.

“India is the world’s largest democracy... When you have the mission to connect everyone in the world, you cannot do without connecting everyone in India,” he said.

India is the second largest user-base for Facebook after the US with 130 million users, he added. Facebook has over 1.3 billion users globally. 

Asked about use of new technologies like artificial intelligence and Oculus on Facebook, the company continues to integrate the latest technology to ease usage and enhance engagement.

He cited the example of using artificial intelligence to describe a picture to a visually impaired user, so that they can also engage on the platform.

Interestingly, Zuckerberg had no good answer to the most voted question during the Townhall: “How 
can we stop getting invitations on Candy Crush?”
 
“This is why such Townhalls are so useful. This was the top voted questions on our thread. I told my developers can we have a solution to this problem by the time I do my Q and A? So we are doing it now,” he quipped.

Users across the globe have complained and even signed online petitions demanding that Candy Crush notifications be blocked.

With the increasing start-up culture being witnessed in India, Zuckerberg suggested that it was important for entrepreneurs to understand and care about their business before starting it, citing his own personal experiences. He further added that even though he did not have any business background, he learnt it through trial and error methods. Zuckerberg said that he never thought Facebook would become such a big hit but made it clear that he felt very strongly about the idea. 

Five takeaways from Zuckerberg’s Q&A
  • India is the largest democracy. It is one of the countries where you cannot connect the world without connecting India. Connecting people in India is one of the most important things we can do for the world.
  • Our mission is giving people the power to share and making the world more connected but I’ve spend time thinking what impact we can have outside Facebook.
  • I told my developers that can we have a solution to this problem (Candy Crush requests on Facebook) by the time I do my Q and A... So we are doing it now.
  • People here think we are trying to restrict the access to the whole Internet. That is far from the truth. Providing free access to the whole Internet is costly, so we’re trying to provide free basic.
  • We want to build computer systems that are better than human senses that hear better and see better.

Piyush Ohrie

Piyush Ohrie

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