‘Internet for All’: Facebook tries to bring Internet basics to India – again

26 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Inc Plan To Connect The World May Not Apply To India.

Google is using a network of stratospheric weather balloons to beam signals to remote parts of Earth. MUMBAI: If Mark Zuckerberg hopes to deliver on his vision of bringing the Internet to the 4 billion people who lack it, the Facebook chief will first need to make his plan more appealing to salesmen like Shoaib Khan.

NARENDRA NAGAR, India — On a rooftop at the Shri Kunjapuri temple, located a mile high in the foothills of the Himalayas, a metal tower with five microwave relay dishes pokes a bit further into the sky.There has been a lot written about the backlash against the service, with critics upset with Facebook for appearing to promise the entire Internet but only providing access to a limited number of websites, as I wrote about in April.For most of 2015, Mark Zuckerberg (the CEO of Facebook) has made it known that he wishes to facilitate access to the Internet through a large scope project.Facebook.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) could yet feel resistance in its bid to offer universal Internet access, as Internet.org struggles to gain traction in India — a country where over a billion people are devoid of basic Internet services for health, education and communication. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, wants to place 4,000 satellites in Low Earth Orbit to make sure every part of the globe is wirelessly connected.

Khan’s perfume and cellphone shop in one of this city’s many slums recently displayed a large blue banner advertising Zuckerberg’s project, called Internet.org, in the back. Another sign for the free package of Internet services — offered in India through the cellphone carrier Reliance Communications — was posted prominently in front. When Internet.org debuted in 2013, critics argued that Facebook was violating Net Neutrality principles by bringing its own services to users while freezing out those of rival companies. The dishes relay signals to and from a base station in the valley below, other mountain towers and, ultimately, Internet access points in about 40 villages. The Digital India Initiative began with a view to transform the country digitally and reel-in big investments in the tech sector, but efforts so far have failed to gather active participation and widespread adoption.

A cellphone vendor in Mumbai didn’t know about the Internet.org offer and once it was explained, told the Times that “the Reliance connection is very patchy…I would really have to sell the customer on it.” Since Internet.org launched in India, about a million people tried it, with 40 percent becoming paying data customers after 30 days, and 5 percent remaining as free service customers. In April, Prasad told the Parliament that he would soon call a meeting of all service providers to look into the problem of frequent call drops being faced by customers. Although the wireless carrier offered the service in seven states, consumers are wary of the spotty connections associated with the network, relative to market leaders, Airtel and Vodafone. The skepticism of phone sellers like Khan and the weaknesses of Facebook’s Indian partner are just two of the problems that have bedeviled Zuckerberg’s project so far.

For 10 rupees, or about 15 cents, customers can buy one day’s access to 100 megabytes of data; $3 will buy 20 gigabytes of data, which can be used over the course of a month. Since a majority of cellphone users in India haven’t even heard of Freenet (Reliance’s Internet.org), it would be convenient to put the failing down to the carriers’ poor customer service and sluggish data network. Internet.org’s free services — which include news articles, health and job information, and a text-only version of Facebook — are deliberately stripped down to minimize data usage and the cost to the phone company. In India, educating consumers on what network connection to adopt is largely left in the hands of card sellers, who are usually incentivized by other carriers to promote their network. In a Facebook post in July last year, Zuckerberg said, “A year ago, I announced Internet.org, our effort to bring affordable internet access to everyone in the world.

Recently, a steady stream of young men stopped by the clothing shop that is the sole vendor of Express Wi-Fi in the village to buy a bit of data and chat with the proprietor, Maken Singh Aswal. It’s an enabler for people to be able to help themselves find jobs, help themselves improve their health situation, improve their education for themselves and their children.

This adoption by word-of-mouth still holds significance in India, considering the fact customers have no barriers in switching their wireless networks. For instance, the operator may sell a YouTube pack with a speed of 2Mbps for the service, whereas for rest of the services, speed might be limited to 512Kbps or so. In May Facebook changed the platform’s rules to allow third-party content, as long as that content doesn’t use too much bandwidth (VoIP, video, and file transfers aren’t allowed) and is optimized for low-end smartphones and feature phones.

But many Indians want more and complain that, contrary to its altruistic claims, the project is simply a way to get them onto Facebook and sign up for paid plans from Reliance. Gurdeep Singh, Chief Executive of Reliance, claimed the battle against digital illiteracy is a slow process, but did admit the company needed to do more to raise awareness of Freenet and convince retailers to promote it. Because of the recent developments regarding net neutrality, (an ideology that, implemented in its most extreme form, would limit internet access only to websites that make deals with certain ISP’s) many have noted the potential for exploiting these communities by limiting the content and information they can obtain. We’re starting to see this vision become a reality, and we’ve already helped 3 million people access the internet who had no access before.” In a country like India though, the problem is slightly different.

In India, the Free Basics service is offered exclusively through Reliance Communications, which has relatively poor coverage and a slower data network than the country’s two most popular services, Vodafone and Airtel. The Express Wi-Fi plan supplemented his Airtel data plan, but he said it had a major drawback. “It only works on one side of the house,” he said, gesturing around the main room of his family’s small home. Other conventional forms of marketing have been slow to catch on too, with large billboards often ignored due to language concerns and imperfect information. Chris Daniels, Facebook’s Vice President of Product for Internet.org, told the New York Times that Internet.org has brought nearly one million Indians online for the first time since it debuted in India in February.

But he remains passionate about his crusade. “Internet access needs to be treated as an important enabler of human rights and human potential,” he told the United Nations last month. Although Facebook began by working with mobile operators, issues such as network access, coverage quality and call drop are impediments that pose a hurdle towards the noble objective. That was a common complaint about Express Wi-Fi, which has a single access point in this town of 5,000 people and focuses the signal on the main business strip. The limitations of this satellite are well noted, as they typically suffer from high latency, and might provide inadequate service to a community on a partially global scale. What should be noted, though, is that the current infrastructure for geostationary satellites is more developed, as the technology has been used in the past.

Facebook is investing heavily in other parts of the project, including experiments to deliver cheap Wi-Fi to remote villages and to beam Internet service from high-flying drones. Perhaps the top most agenda for Zuckerberg during his India visit this week ought to be improving connectivity in India, before he could accomplish his goal of bring billions more online, and eventually on Facebook. This means that resource monitor tools for SysAdmins, compatible software, and hardware infrastructure will already exist rather than need to be invented. Zuckerberg has argued all along that Internet.org is basically a humanitarian project. “We’re doing Internet.org to serve our mission of connecting the world rather than trying to make a profit anytime soon,” he wrote in February in response to an Indian user who asked whether Internet.org was a way for Facebook to increase its ad revenue in emerging markets.

Across India, Facebook already has about 130 million users — only the United States has more users — and wider use will eventually translate to more advertising revenue for the company. During a tour of Internet.org outposts in the Garhwal region, Munish Seth, who heads Facebook’s connectivity efforts in India, downplayed the commercial implications. “My mission is to connect people,” Mr.

The social media giant said that not having a program like ‘Free Basics’ more people would remain offline and without realizing the real benefits of Internet. But in the neighborhood’s narrow alleys, where rivulets of raw sewage competed with sandaled feet, there was little evidence that anyone had noticed Internet.org. Seth said. “We hope they will connect to Facebook, but that’s not the primary mission.” Facebook has no desire to enter directly into the Internet service business. The company’s inability to offer equal access to content is seen as an attempt to self-appoint it as the regulator of the Internet for a new generation of users.

Defending Facebook’s initiative, Zuckerberg said that Internet.org and Net Neutrality can co-exist. “For people who are not on the Internet though, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all. Regardless of ulterior motives, and even if every criticism is correct, there are boundaries coming up that prevent the worst case scenarios from happening. Zuckerberg is still focused on winning over the Indian public, and will arrive in New Delhi later this week to address some of Facebook’s 130 million Indian users. People will keep a close eye on Facebook in the second half of 2016, when their project is expected to launch, and ensure that sub-Saharan communities remain positively serviced.

The companies have tested various pricing models, including offering some service for free, but have concluded that charging a consistent, low price is the best approach. Facebook may be facing setbacks in establishing its own Internet platform, but the company has pledged to offer free services on its universally accessible domain to whichever firm is interested.

Phone-card vendors are key advisers, educating people about all their options. “New customers don’t come looking for Freenet,” said Khan, who is no relation to Shoaib Khan. Even if Reliance’s network were good, he said, the package excludes WhatsApp, a popular messaging app owned by Facebook, and users must pay to see the photos in their Facebook feeds. “If you have to pay for data, what’s the point of calling it free?” he said. Facebook and AirJaldi decided that there should be just one authorized seller per village to give that person a strong incentive to sell as many subscriptions as possible. “That’s how connectivity spread in terms of satellite TV in India,” said Chris Daniels, the global head of the Internet.org project. “There was an entrepreneur in every town who had a dish. A better idea would be to subsidize Internet access till a certain limit and then let users decide whether they would like to pay more for using it further. Khan noted that another carrier had recently awarded him his choice of a Hero motorcycle or 45,000 rupees — nearly $700 — for signing up 1,000 customers.

Moreover, the government needs to spread mobile connectivity to all its rural villages and small towns, as well as educate its populace with global information to maximize their human potential. As e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE:BABA) prepares to report the second quarter performance for fiscal year 2015 (2QFY15), experts view has surfaced to assist investors, going into earnings tomorrow. China woes have had an adverse impact on Alibaba’s credibility, as investors worry that Alibaba’s lead in the e-commerce space could play to its disadvantage, as consumer spending slows down in the country.

Building on the aforementioned notion, analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald specify: “We expect BABA’s 2Q:FY16 results, slated for 10/27, to come in line with Street expectations, which were recently reset lower following management’s intra-quarter update on business trends at an investor conference.” Macro concerns about China’s economy, the health of the Chinese consumer, and competitive concerns remain key issues, and growth in Tmall and Taobao will provide much needed answers to these questions. In a recent interview, however, the agency’s chairman, Ram Sewak Sharma, was skeptical of Internet.org. “Maybe they have wonderful objectives, but the way it is being implemented, that’s not really appropriate,” he said. International wholesale is projected to increase 12% YoY to $218 million; international growth is anticipated to slow down 16% on a YoY basis from 40% in the last quarter. Modest growth is expected in “Others.” Projections of $230 million in revenues are reported under this segment, down from 82% derived in the first quarter. Risks of doing business in China, VIE ownership structure, corporate governance, transparency, and slowdown in China’s economy.” The sell side view on Bloomberg is substantially bullish on Alibaba stock.

In a report released on Friday, October 23, RBC Capital Markets reiterated an Outperform rating and raised the target price by $1 to $56 on Dow Company (NYSE:DOW) stock. Growth projects will come online, along with the Agriculture business’ potential sale, and the strong outlook of Plastics and downstream earnings, before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) are some of the company’s impetus. The multinational chemical company reported 82 cents earnings per share (EPS), which surpassed consensus and RBC Capital Market’s 69 cents and 70 cents estimates, respectively. The negatives comprise higher startup cost for the Sadara project, continued weak outlook of the Agricultural segment, adverse seasonal impacts, and lost EBITDA as a result of divestitures. The company will receive re-tax proceeds of approximately $1.5 billion for portions of MEGlobal, and will lower its ownership in EQUATE during next year.

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