India is the land of Red-Tapism and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has learned it the hard way… Twice.
For Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, chaos is a time of opportunity. In India, the Silicon Valley billionaire has 400 million strong markets that his company has sadly failed to monetize. Facebook’s investment of $5.7 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms is Zuckerberg’s biggest investment since acquiring WhatsApp. There was never a doubt about Facebook’s big money plans for India. But it looks like finally, Mark Zuckerberg has found the way and the business partner in Mukesh Ambani who he needed to thrive in India.
Jio, India’s fastest growing telecom company, promoted by India’s richest man, has conquered the 4G mobile internet market, leapfrogging giant telecom players stuck with 2G and 3G customers. Jio has almost 380 million users on its digital platform on a platter for Facebook. But for Mark Zuckerberg, more important than the business partnership is his new business partner Mukesh Ambani.
Failed twice… But third time lucky
Facebook has a complicated history of setbacks in India. On two separate occasions, lack of political affinity and lack of experience in navigating the regulatory maze in India have caused Mark Zuckerberg’s plans heavily. In its first attempt to reach out to the massive rural population of India which had till then been internet-deprived, Mark Zuckerberg ended up being accused of digital colonialism.
Facebook’s attempt to provide a Free Basics edition attracted plenty of criticism and dived head-first into the net neutrality watchdog waters never to re-emerge. A long-drawn battle with India’s telecom regulator TRAI saw a complete ban on Free Basics and other zero-rated services.
Next, Mark Zuckerberg formulated a strategy to monetize the 400 million WhatsApp userbase in India. The answer was WhatsApp Pay; a payments app that has now been stuck in the pipeline for over a couple of years.
Regulatory issues including those related to data privacy and storage in line with India’s new Data Protection Regulations, have hindered those plans at Facebook. But that was up until Zuckerberg decided to become the largest minority stakeholder in Mukesh Ambani’s end-to-end Digital monopoly dream.
What Mark Zuckerberg gains in Mukesh Ambani as the Indian partner?
Mukesh Ambani isn’t just the richest man in India, he holds the Indian economy by the scruff of its neck as the chairman of Reliance Industries Limited. Ambani has immense socio-economic as well as political clout that he holds in India. The Jio promoter has seen prosperous times during the tenure of the current Indian government, seeing his wealth doubled –from $23 billion to $55 billion between 2014 and 2019.
Furthermore, it should be noted that Mukesh Ambani’s Jio launch with pomp and show with none other than India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsing the brand in matching attire on full-page newspaper advertisements. As Newsclick notes about Jio’s launch, “There were the usual denials that the pictures were used without the Prime Minister’s permission. But most of us know that Reliance would not have dared to use Modi’s image without some tacit prior understanding”
Moving ahead, since Jio’s 2016 launch, TRAI reportedly tweaked policy twice to the new player’s benefit. Consequently, Mukesh Ambani’s digital venture has seen a friendly telecom policy environment during its meteoric rise. This is exactly the kind of expertise in tackling red-tapism that Facebook’s plans in India have been lacking until now, making Mukesh Ambani a much desired and needed partner for Mark Zuckerberg.
Mark Zuckerberg has tried to build unrestricted access in India in the past via a Town Hall with Indian PM Modi at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California HQ. He also tried to woo the Hindu majority country with a story that has Steve Jobs and talks about taking inspiration from a Temple. It seems finally one of Mark Zuckerberg’s India-conquering ploys has hit bull’s eye.