India's Modi Calls Internet Key to Dream of $20 Trillion Economy

Modi: Social Media a Helpful Guide for Governments
  • Leader tours Silicon Valley, says investment from U.S. rises
  • Modi has large gap to close with economy valued at $2 trillion

Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans on connecting 600,000 villages across India using fiber optic cable as part of his “dream” to expand the world’s largest democracy’s economy to $20 trillion.

Speaking at Facebook Inc. headquarters with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg on Sunday, Modi described his plans to link local governments with faster Internet over the next five years to establish a reliable digital infrastructure. Modi, who came into power 15 months ago, has a large gap to close with India’s economy valued at $2 trillion in 2014.

Modi is touring Silicon Valley this weekend, seeking investments from Fortune 500 companies. After visiting companies including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the Blackstone Group on Sept. 24 in New York City, Modi is also scheduled to visit Google Inc., Apple Inc., and Tesla Motors Inc. Investments from the U.S. are up 87 percent in the last 15 months. he said.

“There are many countries who don’t know where to invest their money, so I’m giving them the address - here’s the place,” Modi said through an interpreter at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Earlier in the day, Zuckerberg changed the profile picture on his Facebook account to draw attention to Digital India, a Modi government initiative to broaden the access to and amount of services that are available digitally.

Railway Stations

Google and the Indian government are working to bring high-speed wireless Internet access to 400 of the country’s railway stations, Sundar Pichai, the U.S. company’s incoming chief executive officer, said at a subsequent event with Modi on Google’s campus.

The company will work with Indian Railways and RailTel to bring high-speed Wi-Fi to 100 of the busiest stations in India before the end of 2016, Google said in a statement. It will eventually expand this scheme to cover an additional 300 stations.

"Even with just the first 100 stations online, this project will make Wi-Fi available for the more than 10 million people who pass through every day," Pichai said in a statement. The public Wi-Fi project will be the largest in India and among the biggest in the world when ranked by the number of potential users, he said.

In some short remarks to an assembled crowd of Google staff and independent software developers, Modi praised "hackathon culture" for providing new solutions to civic problems.

"We should also be encouraging this in our big cities," Modi said.

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