India approves Facebook’s $5.7 billion deal with Reliance Jio Platforms

India’s antitrust watchdog has given its blessing to Facebook and Reliance Jio Platforms for their $5.7 billion deal.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Competition Commission of India said it had approved Facebook’s proposed multi-billion-dollar investment in Jio Platforms for a 9.99% stake in the top Indian telecom network.

Jaadhu Holdings LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Facebook, is acquiring the stake in Jio Platforms. Facebook created this subsidiary earlier this year.

The announcement comes a week after the watchdog said it was accessing the deal for potential misuse of users’ data and pondering if it should consider amending the current rules for some mergers and acquisitions in the country.

At the time, Facebook had argued that its investment in the Indian firm is “pro-competitive, benefits consumers, kirana stores (neighborhood stores) and other small and micro local Indian businesses, and take forward the vision of digital India.”

Jio Platforms, run by India’s most valued firm Reliance Industries, is the biggest telecom operator in India with over 388 million subscribers. The telco has raised $15.2 billion from a roster of high-profile investors including Silver Lake, KKR, and General Atlantic at the height of the global pandemic.

Analysts have said that Facebook’s investment in billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms, its biggest investment in recent years, could help the social media giant expand its reach in India, which is already its biggest market by user count.

Facebook’s eponymous service reaches about 350 million users in India, while its messaging service WhatsApp has amassed over 400 million users. WhatsApp is by far the most popular service in the world’s second largest market.

In April, Facebook said it planned to work with Reliance Jio Platforms to empower 60 million small businesses, including mom-and-pop stores in India. Early signs of this collaboration was apparent a week later when JioMart, a joint venture between Reliance Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail (India’s largest retail chain), started to allow customers to track shipment through WhatsApp.

Some analysts said that the deal with Ambani, India’s richest man and an ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, could also help Facebook stay on the good side of the Indian government. In India, where Facebook’s Free Basics program was blocked in early 2016, the firm has been stuck in a regulatory maze to get clearance for a nationwide rollout of WhatsApp Pay.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay in beta mode to a million users in the country in 2018, only months after Google launched its payments service in India. While WhatsApp Pay remains stuck at a million users, Google and Walmart’s PhonePe have established clear dominance in India’s mobile payments market.

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