Some may remember that I wrote about Facebook’s efforts in India at the end of December, and was not overly optimistic about their chances of success since the Indian government was just then instituting a “review” of Facebook’s practices. Please belief me that I am not posting this follow-up blog with any sense of joy or vindictiveness. India is a country with 1.2 billion inhabitants in a country approximately a third the size of the U.S. While it may have 130 million Facebook users, second only to the U.S., telecommunications experts there note that more than ten percent of the country does not have mobile phone coverage, and that India’s progress in extending fiber-optic cable to village centers is proceeding at a glacial pace.
The current Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi has set a goal of linking 250,000 village centers with fiber-optic cable and extending mobile coverage under his “Digital India” plan by 2016. Well 2016 has arrived, and reaching that goal by the end of this year, appears to be an impossibility. According to a recent Indian government report, only 25,000 village centers have cable so far, and it is ready for use in only 3,200. But maybe Facebook (Zuckerberg) is actually being used as a scapegoat for the failure of the Indian government to provide the basic technological infrastructure that is sorely needed. Government broadband access often sputters, wages are low, and hours are long. Girls and women have disproportionately been excluded from the educational and employment opportunities that technology offers.
Facebook has certainly captured the imagination of younger generations around the world. It clearly provides students with individual access and connectivity on a global scale whenever they want and wherever they are. As one young Indian villager noted: the first thing he would do when the Internet finally arrived is to sign up for Facebook.