After telcos, Google turns to startups

The comments come at a time when the government is in the midst of formulating laws on data protection and telecom.

telecom sector, telecom industry
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Google, which has stakes in two of the country’s largest telecom operators — Reliance Jio (7.73% for $4.5 billion) and Bharti Airtel (1.2% for $700 million) — will now shift its focus to startups in India. The US tech giant earmarked $300 million for investments in startups with a fourth of the fund to be set aside for entities led by women, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said on Monday.

These investments are part of the $10-billion (`75,000-crore) India Digitisation Fund, which the tech giant launched in 2020. The stake buys in Jio and Bharti were also part of this fund.

Speaking at the Google for India event, Pichai said India has an opportunity to provide scale to startups across its markets, which is difficult in places like Europe.

In his first visit to India since the pandemic, Pichai said the country will be a big export economy and it needs to create a balance between safeguarding citizens and enabling companies to innovate with its framework. He said that technology is working at a big scale and touching lives of people around the world, which calls for framing responsible and balanced regulation.

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“Given the scale and technology leadership it (India) will have, it’s important to make sure you are balancing, putting in safeguards for people. You’re creating an innovative framework, so that companies can innovate on top of a certainty in the legal framework. I think it is an important moment in time. India will also be a big export economy. It will benefit from an open and connected Internet and getting that balance right will be important,” Pichai said.

The comments come at a time when the government is in the midst of formulating laws on data protection and telecom.

Speaking at the event, communications and IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said, “We are creating three horizontals. First is the telecom Bill, which is for the carriers; second is the digital protection Bill, which is focused around enforcing citizens’ privacy rights; and the third is the digital India Bill, which is practically going to look at everything which is required to be seen.”

Vaishnaw said that on top of these Bills, there will be multiple small, sectoral-focused modular regulations.

He said that the government aims to enact all the Bills in about 14-16 months, starting with telecom and data protection, which should become law by July and August next year.

Pichai, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi later in the day, tweeted that he is looking forward to “continuing the strong partnership and supporting India’s G20 presidency to advance an open, connected internet that works for all”.

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Google on Monday also announced several new projects and initiatives like new fraud detection model for digital payments on Google Pay, Digilocker integration by Google app on Android, innovations across search focusing on bilingual languages, grant of $1 million to IIT Madras for setting up India’s first centre for responsible AI, among others.

“Indian Internet story has come of age. The combination of affordable smartphones, low-cost mobile data and digitisation of critical citizen services have laid a solid foundation for the digital economy,” said Sanjay Gupta, country head and vice-president, Google India. He added that a strong digital momentum will bring nearly a billion Indians online by 2025.

Moving away from English as a language of Internet, Google is also working on an AI model to capture information across 1,000 languages to make the Internet accessible for people with diverse Indian dialects.

The company has collaborated with Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, under Project Vaani to collect and transcribe open source speech data from across all of the country’s 773 districts.

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First published on: 20-12-2022 at 05:45 IST