Calling 911: Can Facebook reduce the Digital Divide in Developing Countries?

Posted by Karen on Oct 14, 2014 12:00:00 AM
There is a group of four developing countries which are referred to as ‘BRIC’ that experts believe are starting to move from developing countries to countries which will have strong economies in the near future. These countries are Brazil, India, Russia and China, and each of these countries has been a high priority for technology companies over the past few years. Even though there have been some fluctuations in the above four’s economies, many are still confident that they are the ones to watch in the near future.

This is just one of the reasons why some of the most prominent members of the global technology sector have recently visited India including Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. However, one of the most famous names to visit India over the past couple of weeks was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who at the summit announced his plans for the future of technology in India.

Zuckerberg’s speech mainly focussed on the availability of technology in India and the issue of the digital divide. He said: "In developing countries, 25 percent fewer women are online, compared to men. A lot of people who have never experienced the Internet just don't know why they would want it. A recent survey shows that 69 percent of people in India say they don't know why it would be useful for them."

One of the reasons why the people of India (or any other developing country for that matter) may not see the benefit of the Internet is because of the cost associated with it. This is where Zuckerberg revealed his plan – creating a free Internet that will be available to those in developing countries called ‘911 Internet’. Discussing his plans, Zuckerberg said: "In the US, you can always dial 911 even if you don't have a phone plan, the way you dial 100 here [in India]. There needs to be a 911 for the Internet. We've been working with operators to offer free basic Internet for everyone, to break down the social barriers. With this model, we've already helped people connect 3 million people."

"India has shown the ability to make these leaps. The Green Revolution helped hundreds and millions out of poverty, and the computer revolution made India one of the only countries in the world to send a probe to Mars. The next generation has the opportunity to define the future and the key to this is going to be embracing the Internet. We have a long way to go to get there because only one-third of people have access to the Internet at all. Here in India, 248 million people are connected to the Internet and more than 100 million are on Facebook online, but there are still a billion people in India who don't have the same opportunities as everyone else."

Along with attempting to alleviate the issue of the digital divide in India with ‘911 Internet’, Zuckerberg announced that the company is creating a number of new programmes in local languages. He added: "Today we're announcing a couple of new programs - [first] we're launching a contest to find the best app in local languages. We've got a fund of $1 million (Rs. 6 crores approximately) to help developers build and scale apps that will help farmers and migrant workers and students and women, and we're going to fund top apps in each of these categories.

"We're also going to extend a program called FB Start, which provides $40,000 (Rs. 25 lakh approximately) to developers who build and develop apps in these categories." With large companies such as Facebook focussing more heavily on the digital divide in developing countries it is likely that technology sectors in these regions will start booming over the next few years. At Fluidata we have worked tirelessly to resolve the digital divide here in the UK with our Service Exchange Platform (SEP), and with companies such as Facebook starting to focus on this issue too things are likely to continue to improve in the future.
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