With Mark Zuckerberg in Delhi on Thursday, Facebook-backed Internet.org launched a contest to promote the creation of apps, websites and online services for women, students, farmers and migrant workers in India.
The occasion was the first summit of the Internet.org group, at which the Facebook CEO delivered the keynote.
"Connectivity can't just be a privilege for some of the rich and powerful," said Zuckerberg. "It needs to be something that everyone shares, and an opportunity for everyone."
A top prize of US$250,000, sponsored by Facebook, will be awarded in each category. Challenge award winners will also get a package of tools and services worth $60,000 from Facebook's program to support app developers, called FbStart. In addition, eight awards of $25,000 each will be given to providers of apps, websites or services that have made an impact with the target audiences. Entries to the contest, open to people around the world, must be submitted by Jan. 31.
Internet.org is a collaborative effort, launched last year by Facebook and other tech companies like Ericsson and Samsung, that aims to make the Internet accessible to the world's population who are not yet connected.
A report by McKinsey and Company, in collaboration with Facebook, noted that there are currently 4.4 billion people without Internet access, of which 3.4 billion live in 20 countries and are disproportionately rural, low-income, elderly, female and illiterate. Women in developing countries are 25 percent less likely to be connected than men. In India, 243 million of over 1.2 billion people have access to the Internet, of which over 100 million are already on Facebook, Zuckerberg said.
The decision to hold the summit in India likely reflects the appeal to Internet.org of the new, social-media savvy federal government that came to power in May. Zuckerberg said he would be meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.
There are several issues the two men may discuss. For one, India has in the past had disputes with U.S. Internet companies, particularly over the removal of content considered offensive or religiously sensitive on their websites. The Indian offices of Internet companies have often tried to avoid content restrictions by claiming that the websites are being run from abroad. Tax policies and requirements that Internet companies store user data locally may also come up during Zuckerberg's meeting with government officials in Delhi.
With the new government there are going to be a number of changes to ensure that foreign Internet companies play by the rules in India, said a person close to the situation. Microsoft said recently that it would stop routing Skype Internet calls from within India to local landlines and mobile phones, which was not allowed under local rules.