After tasting criticism for disregarding the principle of net neutrality by introducing ‘Free Basics’ programme in 2015, Facebook recently came up with ‘Express Wi-Fi’ services in India, offering Internet facilities through public hotspots in rural areas, which is a follow up to their banned Free Basics platform.
The number of Internet users in India is on the rise; all due to the increasingly affordable data prices especially the ones provided by mobile network operators like Reliance Jio, who have also contributed to the increasing use of smartphones in the country.
However, even as the Internet envelops some of the remotest villages in India, there are still many without cell networks let alone Internet connectivity.
Thus, in a bid to provide Wi-Fi facilities in poor or no connectivity areas in India, social networking corporation Facebook, recently came up with its new service ‘Express Wi-Fi’. The programme ties up with entrepreneurs to help them set up public Wi-Fi hotspots and provide Internet to residents in poor connectivity areas.
The project has been commercially launched a year after Facebook pulled the plug on the Free Basics programme that attracted stern criticisms from supporters of net neutrality, a principle that supports the freedom of the Internet by enabling access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.
However, unlike Free Basics that provided access to selected websites for free, Express Wi-Fi works on a paid model and the access will not be restricted to any particular website.
According to Munish Seth, head of connectivity solutions Facebook Asia-Pacific, India’s population is about 1.3 billion but only 390 million people are connected to the Internet, and thus Express Wi-Fi is part of a global initiative to expand Internet connectivity in underserved locations.
For the programme, Facebook is working with Internet services providers (ISPs) and over 500 local entrepreneur retailers while also partnering with telecom giant Bharti Airtel, which will deploy more than 20,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the country over the next few months.
Under the initiative, Facebook will just provide a platform and the solutions. “We will not charge the ISP/telecom operator or the entrepreneur. The operator decides on the pricing and will handle the data as the Internet traffic flows through their system. We are just providing the solutions,” said Munish Seth.
Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi service is available through nearly 700 hotspots across four Indian states including Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Meghalaya and is also live in other four countries – Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Indonesia.
To access Express Wi-Fi network, one can sign up with an Express Wi-Fi retailer to purchase a daily, weekly or monthly data pack. The user will then be able to connect to Express Wi-Fi hotspots, register or create an account, login and start browsing or use any app on the Internet.