With the increasing number of smartphone users in India, the internet potential is also growing. After the failure of ‘Free Basics’, Facebook has yet another opportunity, according to the US company, to bring internet access to all by aiming to launch express Wi-Fi in the country.
India’s growing smartphone population makes it a huge market for Silicon Valley giants, like Facebook and Google, to experiment. ‘Free Basics’ was launched by Facebook under its initiative – Internet.org, in February last year to provide free access to some websites for people who cannot afford the internet. But the initiative was ruled out as it was alleged to disregard the principles of net neutrality that advocates the access of free internet to all.
Under Internet.org, Facebook focuses at connecting the world under one umbrella through the World Wide Web (WWW) and providing the service to those who don’t have it.
Despite the failure of the previous initiative, Facebook aims to come back stronger with ‘Express Wi-Fi’ in India. The plan is to serve smartphone users with internet in areas where currently it’s unavailable, but this time, not for free. People will be able to purchase data from local internet service providers to access the internet.
In order to spread connectivity, Facebook is collaborating with carriers, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), local entrepreneurs and mobile operators and has successfully completed a trial of the service in the country with one local telecom operator and approximately 125 rural hotspots.
Desguised commercial push
Facebook has more than 142 million users in India alone, of which, nearly 133 million connect to the social media platform through their phones. The introduction of Express Wi-Fi will bring more people on the internet and ultimately on Facebook. Some competitors and net neutrality advocates have again been criticising the American company for this, branding it as a disguised commercial push.
According to Facebook, the initiative will empower local entrepreneurs to help provide quality internet access to their neighbours and make a steady income. Facebook is also set to provide a software that will help local ISPs and entrepreneurs to provide internet in rural areas, which can be accessed via public Wi-Fi hotspots.
However, where Google has already connected millions of people with its railroad Wi-Fi hotspots across the country, Express Wi-Fi’s effectiveness is yet to be seen and the debate about its neutrality continues.