TRAI passed a landmark judgment disallowing any plans with differential pricing on any of the service providers in February. This decision of TRAI marked the end of Facebook’s ambitious Free Basics program. But now, the social networking giant is now planning to launch a commercial WiFi service in India. According to Economics Times, under their Express WiFi program, Facebook is taking initiative to launch 125 rural WiFi hotspots in partnership with BSNL. Express WiFi is Facebook’s commercial WiFi program which aims to partner with carriers and service providers to provide cheap internet to people and small businesses.
Zuckerberg has always expressed open interest in connecting people of India to the internet, as he sees India as a market where there is a lot of scope for growth. Earlier this year, when the Free Basics program was discontinued he said that he was disappointed, but he will still try to bring the internet to rural people by different means. “We are testing Express Wi-Fi program in India currently that allows customers to purchase fast, reliable and affordable data packages from their local ISP (internet service providers) to access the Internet via local hotspots,” a Facebook India spokesperson told ET.
On the other hand, Google has taken over Facebook in terms of providing free Internet to the people of the country. They have managed to give free Internet to over 2 million users by providing them access without any cost on 10 railway stations of India. Google has tied up with the Government of India to provide internet access to more railways stations in the coming years. But that’s not it, the company is also planning to provide remote areas access to the internet by the means of the balloons under Project Loon.
Recently, India overtook the US in terms of the number of Internet users according to the Mary Meeker report. But a report from WatchDog suggests that in past 3 years the rise of the WiFi hotspots in India has been a mere 12%. This is a very meek figure as compared to the 568% global rise.
A recent IAMAI report suggests that more than two-thirds of the Indians are not connected to the Internet yet. So there is a natural interest from the companies all around the world in the country’s untapped market. Connectivity to internet in the rural areas will also support Indian Economy to grow, hence Indian government is also supporting all the initiatives taken by different companies. This is for now, stay tuned for further updates.