Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the bully pulpit of the company's quarterly earnings call to defend its controversial Internet.org program to bring the world's disconnected people online.
In India alone, Internet.org has connected more than 1 million people, but still has a long way to go, with more than a billion of the country's 1.258 billion people not connected to the Internet, Zuckerberg said. Internet.org currently works with just one operator in India, in one part of the country. (See Facebook Targets India's Hinterland .)
Internet.org has provided free basic Internet service to people in 29 countries, and is open to all developers, Zuckerberg said.
Internet.org has faced resistance in India, with critics saying the quality of service is lousy, and net neutrality advocates in India saying the service is a walled kingdom that favors Facebook and its partners.
But Internet access can be life changing for those who don't have it, Zuckerberg said. "If you don't have access to a good school, then getting basic Internet access could be your best educational information. Or if you don't have access to a good doctor, then getting access to the Internet could be the only way that you can learn about how to avoid certain diseases, or how to raise your kids and help them avoid certain diseases." Internet access can also help people find jobs. Research shows that for every ten people who connect to the Internet, one gets lifted out of poverty and one job gets created, Zuckerberg said.
Facebook views China, where Facebook is blocked, as another big opportunity. "Obviously, you can't have a mission of wanting to connect everyone in the world and leave out the biggest country," he said. Facebook will need to get access to China "over the long term," he said. For now, China is "already one of the biggest advertising markets that we have," as Chinese companies look to the social network to connect with international customers.
Also on the earnings call, Facebook described milestones for its messaging products, which are both competitors to and opportunties for traditional carrier offerings. Apps like Facebook's WhatsApp and Messenger compete with carriers' own messaging and voice services, while also driving demand for mobile data services.
WhatsApp has hit 900 million monthly active users, while Messenger has 700 million monthly actives, Zuckerberg said. Also, more than 900 million people use Facebook Groups every month; groups are kind of a way of splitting the difference between Whatsapp and Messenger, which are private one-on-one services, and Instagram and the Facebook feed, which are more public.
Facebook reported revenue of $4.5 billion, up 41% year-over-year, driving an 11% annual earnings increase, despite a 68% increase in costs and expenses, as the company spends on projects including AI, virtual reality and Internet.org. Facebook traded at $107.65, up 3.57% after hours.
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