Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) had 1.55 billion “monthly active users” as of September 30. China’s population is just shy of 1.4 billion, which is over 19% of the world’s total. At Facebook’s current growth rate of 14% year over year, Facebook will have 2 billion users in less than three years
Facebook’s growth rates may slow, particularly as its penetration efforts reach areas without Internet connectivity or where literacy levels necessary to use the social network are very low. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg would like to solve the Internet penetration problem by creating technology that will cover the world in connectivity. However, Zuckerberg’s most recent efforts, which are in India, the world’s second largest nation by population, have met some resistance. The level of pushback may increase the odds against his long-term “Internet everywhere” plan.
Zuckerberg’s problem, among others, is that critics believe his desire to increase the Internet population is only a means to create a larger audience for Facebook. While that could be true, it does not argue that people should be deprived of the Internet because Zuckerberg might, and only might, add them to his empire. Spreading the Internet has benefits in and of itself, not the least of which is giving hundreds of millions of people access to the outside world via news, entertainment and social sharing.
Whether Zuckerberg can expand Internet availability widely, he does not need it as a means to reach short-term earnings goals. Facebook revenue reached $4.5 billion in the most recent quarter, compared to $3.2 billion in the same period the year before. Net income rose from $806 million to $896 million. Facebook has over $15 billion in the bank, which should support any efforts to drive the company’s audience higher, although user expansion apparently takes care of itself. There is no evidence that Facebook “buys” users. The social aspect of the social network works well enough on its own. Growth of other social networks supports that.
Could Facebook’s user base reach 2 billion even without universal Internet coverage? As quickly as it is growing, Facebook has a chance.