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Inside Zuckerberg’s New Plan to Woo Telecom CEOs

BARCELONA—At a private dinner here Tuesday night, Mark Zuckerberg was frank with about ten CEOs from global phone companies sitting around the table: India’s ban of Facebook’s Free Basics mobile app was a big setback and a significant moment for a company not accustomed to regulatory blowback.

Facebook’s CEO then turned to a pitch for the company’s latest olive branch to telecom operators, according to a person present. Facebook is now pitching engineering-focused partnerships to help speed up the rollout of faster wireless networks in the developed world and remote areas—an approach that is technologically ambitious, but won’t stir up thorny net neutrality debates. But it does involve winning over telecom firms, which until now have seen Facebook as a competitive threat.   

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“To address the biggest concerns of telecom operators, it’s a good move. It’s not sustainable to have Free Basics without investment in connectivity,” Mr. Bello said. “No one really believes the future of helping people get connected is balloons and drones. It could happen but it’s not the mainstream of how to deal with the digital divide.”

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Facebook seems to have become more “deferential” to carriers in recent years.