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Mark Zuckerberg’s Reliance Jio deal not his first attempt to enter India

Joining hands with India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani has given Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg the opportunity to get a foothold into something that he has been longing for since 2014 — India’s digital space. Mark Zuckerberg, after having reserved a seat at the table for Rs 43,000 crore, now truly aims to become integrated with India’s growing digital arena. But this is not Facebook’s first attempt to step into the country. The social-media giant’s initial attempts to provide the Indian audience with an opportunity to access the internet and spread their wings came under regulatory hurdles and got its wings clipped in 2016. This was Mark Zukerberg’s Free Basic program.

In 2014 when Mark Zukerberg came to visit a far-flung village in Rajasthan, he had an aim and this was to provide the rural Indian audience with internet access that was free of cost but had Facebook at the centre of it. Although Mark Zuckerberg’s aim was to help the poor Indian access the internet, with certain benefits for himself of course, this was not how the regulators saw this move by the Silicon Valley company.

Soon, Mark Zuckerberg’s mission to provide internet services faced numerous hurdles and setbacks that the social media giant was unfamiliar with. Facebook launched ‘Internet.org’ to work towards its aim of free internet access, but this service had an interesting twist. It was to favour a few websites while others were not treated at par, spurring a debate about net-neutrality. Soon after, in February of 2016 the telecom regulatory authority of India (TRAI) banned free mobile data programs that favoured a few services over the internet. The Free Basics service, however, went on in other countries. Interestingly Internet.org was launched in India by Mark Zuckerberg in partnership with Reliance Communications.

Now with a 10% stake in Reliance Jio, Mark Zuckerberg could steer clear of the regulatory hurdles and enjoy the vast customer base that Mukesh Ambani has built over the years. With the internet-to-all dream already being worked out by Ambani the duo will now focus on mom and pop stores across the country to connect them to the internet and offer their services on e-commerce platform, Jio-mart. The partnership is aimed at tapping into Jio’s reach of nearly one-third of India’s population while also focusing on MSMEs. A commercial partnership has also been signed with Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which would put JioMart — the upcoming O2O offering of Reliance Retail — on an accelerated growth path, according to Edelweiss Securities. The brokerage firm thinks the Jio-Mart initiative could well be in line with China’s WeChat as WhatsApp steps in with Reliance.

—Financial Express

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