by Sara Schonhardt
Mark Zuckerberg wants to bring Indonesia to the world via the Internet and make millions more prosperous along the way.
The chief executive of Facebook FB -0.41% gave his social media site’s followers a glimpse of the diverse Southeast Asian country by posting a picture of himself at a famed Buddhist temple Sunday and then made a media splash Monday by appearing in an uncharacteristic suit alongside incoming president Joko Widodo, who relied heavily on social media to help with his campaigning.
Mr. Zuckerberg said the president-elect’s success in connecting to people in Indonesia made him excited to visit. “It’s really been an unprecedented thing around the world and it’s an honor to be here and witness it firsthand how’s that happening,” the young billionaire said after meeting Mr. Widodo at City Hall.
Later in the day, Mr. Zuckerberg swapped his suit for a t-shirt and sneakers to attend a developer summit aimed at making it easier and cheaper for tens of millions of Indonesians to get online.
“Getting businesses here on the Internet is one of the biggest levers that the government has for growing the economy and it’s one of the biggest ways we at Facebook feel we can help grow the economy,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.
The summit is part of Internet.org, a partnership between Facebook and several global technology companies that aims to break down barriers to online access in places where Internet penetration remains low. In Indonesia, where many people get online through their mobile phones, the focus will be making access to mobile networks cheaper and more efficient.
“The vast majority of people who are going to come online in the Internet in the future are going to come via mobile device … so mobile devices are the future,” said Chris Daniels, the vice president of Internet.org.
Indonesia’s internet penetration rate is less than 20%, but around 85% of the population of 250 milllion is covered by a mobile data network. Challenges remain to bring all those mobile users online in an archipelago nation of more than 17,500 islands where around 40% of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
Mobile coverage is still patchy in places and costs for smartphones and data plans remain high for many.
Solving those problems represents a huge opportunity for Indonesia and for Facebook. Currently 69 million of Indonesia’s 250 million citizens have active Facebook accounts, and Mr. Zuckerberg admits that it will benefit Facebook to see more users in Indonesia get online.
Through Internet.org, Facebook is working with local telecoms to offer free services, such as health and education information, basic financial services, and chat apps like Facebook messenger, over the Internet.
It also partnered with Ericsson to set up a lab that developers can use to simulate network conditions on the apps they’re building. At the Buddhist temple of Borobudur, where Mr. Zuckerberg posted the picture to his Facebook page, he said the mobile connection passed the litmus test.
“There are places where you travel and you can’t do basic things like take a photo and share it with someone else or upload it,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, adding later: “There are all these different parts of culture and innovation that the world could have from Indonesia that we are being robbed of because a lot of people don’t have a way to share that.”
– Linda Silaen contributed reporting.