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Facebook’s plan to connect one billion Indians is starting small—really small

Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
By Leo Mirani
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Last October , Mark Zuckerberg went to New Delhi and “explored ways to provide internet access to more than a billion people in India who aren’t yet connected.” Today, Facebook announced it has found a way, releasing its app, which provides users with to a variety of services at no charge—so long as they use the Reliance Communications network, live in any of six (out of 29) Indian states, own an Android phone, and use either the Opera browser or the UC Web browser.

For everyone else, there is the error screen below.

Facebook might want to connect one billion Indians to the internet (its limited version of the internet anyway), but right now it is closer to connecting less than a tenth that number. To be sure, any effort has to start somewhere; Facebook itself admits its latest launch is aimed “millions of people in India” rather than a billion. But after all the hype, Facebook’s big India announcement is surprisingly limited considering the size of the country.

It is impossible to estimate what reach the service will actually have, thanks to the difficulties in measuring penetration. But the number is like in the very low millions.

At the end of December, India had 943 million active mobile subscriptions. But just under half of all Android phones in India are dual-SIM devices, and many more Indians have more than one mobile connection. That means that the true number of individuals with mobile phones is much lower. The GSMA, a trade body, reckons that the true penetration of mobile connectivity in India is about half the headline figures. Some phones are shared among families or other groups, but not enough to push penetration significantly higher. And smartphones are used by only some 110 million.

To further complicate matters for Facebook, its partner, Reliance Communications, had only 11.26% of the Indian mobile market—a number that has been steadily declining.

Asked whether this is a pilot program, part of a wider rollout, and if other operators will join the scheme, a Facebook spokesperson directed Quartz to the official announcement and to a post on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page.

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