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Image credit: Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Zuckerberg finds it funny some still don't trust Internet.org

Facebook swallowing the web is kind of funny, TBH.

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Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Despite onstage sweat, several wireless microphone issues and pointed (but important) questions from his interviewer, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg held his ground at Mobile World Congress tonight. For the most part, the keynote discussion wasn't very different from his previous talks at the conference, which included a recap of Facebook's recent initiatives. But Wired's Jessi Hempel, who moderated the chat, pushed him to open up around India's recent ban of Facebook's Free Basics program (a part of the Internet.org initiative).

"It's been a little funny that people sometimes don't take you on face value [regarding providing free internet altruistically]," Zuckerberg said. Ultimately, he just wants to get people online who wouldn't have any other way to get connected. But when pressed, he added, "A lot of people think that companies don't think about anything other than making money. ... I didn't start Facebook to be a company initially. ... I wanted to connect people in my college. Going forward, I realized building a company was the best way to get a lot of people to build toward a certain goal."

It's a heartfelt position -- one he also wrote about in his editorial following India's Free Basics ban. At the same time, net neutrality advocates have a reason to be worried. While Free Basics is indeed a path for the very poor to get online, it also locks users into a very limited version of the web controlled by Facebook. (After early criticism, Facebook also created a way for anyone to add their website to the platform.) Zuckerberg noted that Free Basics helped get 19 million people online last year, and many who use it end up subscribing to more expansive net access. Still, the people stuck with Free Basics will only see the web through Facebook's eyes.

"Every country is different," Zuckerberg said, when asked what he learned from the ban in India. "Models that worked in some countries might not work in others."

Despite that setback, Facebook is still moving forward with other Internet.org projects. After testing out a prototype, the company plans to build a second solar-powered plane for delivering web access. On top of that, it's developing a laser system that'll send satellite internet service right to the plane. Another program, dubbed Express WiFi, gives connected users in rural communities a way to resell their Internet access.

When asked if Facebook would ever be interested in actually becoming an ISP, he laughed. "We're an internet service, we have a great ad business model we like," Zuckerberg said. "Our goal is to help people get on the internet. ... When people are on the internet, we have a business model that works."

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