Facebook is pushing for new technologies and business models because of what founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls a “wide commitment to do all that is necessary to get the internet to everyone”.
Facebook is pushing for new technologies and business models because of what founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls a “wide commitment to do all that is necessary to get the internet to everyone”. So while he is clear that he does not want to replace the internet or create a parallel web, he says Facebook certainly wants to “spread the internet, the whole internet”.
“In order to do that there are a lot of things that we are doing as part of Interent.org and other initiatives to reach people. So we are working on new technologies like unmanned solar powered aircraft that can fly for months at a time and beam down access, we are working on satellites, laser communication systems as well as new business models like the Free Basics programme which we hope to roll out widely in India and other countries,” Zuckerberg said during a select media interaction at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. The company has just renamed its free internet initiative under its controversial Internet.org as the Free Basics app.
But Zuckerberg, who just hosted PM Narendra Modi at his sprawling campus with over 6,000 employees, says there is a need to add perspective to the net neutrality debate in India. “We here also believe in net neutrality very strongly. If someone wants to get access to some service, but an operator wants to charge more money, then that is bad. It isn’t a fair thing to do and is a big issue. But at the same time if you have a student in a classroom looking up for information for free and do her homework, it is hard to see why there is an issue with that,” he said.
Zuckerberg added that there was a need for a regulatory framework that enables both the net neutrality protection and the ability to work on new models for access.
“It is not necessarily legal to sell an apple and say men only pay $2 and women $3. We want laws preventing that.
But then no one says if you want to give an apple to a food bank for free that is wrong. I think we need to get this debate right,” he said, taking questions from a handful of Indian journalists minutes after his meeting with Modi. He said the US has done a “pretty good job with net neutrality regulations” by keeping the spread of connectivity with different business models completely separate.
“One of the reasons we renamed the app to Free Basics is to make it clear what the app does, and that is a business model for delivering free basic services. The other reason why we did it is that we wanted to make people understand that Internet.org and the programme that we have with all these other companies isn’t just that,” he clarified, adding how he felt the two things have gotten conflated together, “where a lot of people think that Internet.org is this one effort to connect people”.
Zuckerberg said one of the goals was to make Facebook a good experience on different networks and that was why they launched Facebook Lite with low data consumption. “The reality is that most companies that are building internet services aren’t building for 1.5 billion people. We are pushing beyond that. Even if you are building for a few hundred million users you can do that using mainstream technologies that are widely deployed. But if your are trying to connect everyone, you really have to push beyond the fringes.”
One of the richest people on earth with a net worth of over $40 billion, the 31-year-old says he never thought they would be the ones to build the largest social network of our times. “After launching the first version of Facebook for a few thousand users we would discuss how this should be built for the world. It wasn’t even a thought that maybe it could be us. We always thought it would be someone else doing it,” he said. “Now, looking back 10 years on, we think the reason we did this was we cared more about connecting people. All these companies had this opportunity to build social media, but they didn’t because they didn’t care for it. Even though we were just college students who didn’t have the kind of resources they had, we kind of went ahead and did that. That is still the kind of mentality we have today,” he said, reiterating that while Facebook might seem like a big company that is not the kind of mindset they had. “Now, the next frontier is getting everyone in the world on the internet.”
The writer was in Menlo Park as a guest of Facebook.