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Facebook Tests New Wi-Fi Service in India

Facebook Tests New WI-Fi Service in India

Facebook's Express Wi FiAbout a month ago we took a look at Facebook’s new OpenCellular project, an initiative to provide remote areas with cellular service. This week, another Facebook wireless effort seems to be kicking into gear. This new effort is known as Express Wifi, which looks to provide phone owners in India with the ability to purchase data from local internet service providers. This means that Facebook is providing software that helps local ISPs and entrepreneurs sell and provide internet service in remote areas that can be accessed through public wi-fi hotspots. Facebook has already completed a pilot program in India with local state run telecom group Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. and roughly 125 rural wi-fi hotspots.

“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 representative said. Facebook has reportedly designed customized software for rural markets to assist ISPs to manage their areas, filling in gaps in India’s wireless data networks.

This is Facebook’s second attempt to provide wi-fi connections in India. The big difference now is that the internet access isn’t being given away. Last year, the social media giant attempted to give away free in India through a program called Free Basics. The company eventually faced a high number of regulatory roadblocks leading to the eventual banning of Free Basics by India’s Telecom Regulatory Authority in February. 

You might be wondering why India is such a key location for Facebook. The reason is simply because of the roughly 33% of the population with internet access. This leaves a lot of potential for Facebook to grow their wireless network. The Indian government is also hoping to open Wi-Fi in the country and spread moderate broadband through a consultation process. It was noted by India’s telecom regulator that expansion in the number of Wi-Fi hotspots between 2013 and 2016 was 568% worldwide, while India only had 12% during the same time frame.

Because Free Basics provided free access to some sites such as Facebook, it violated the tenets of net neutrality. This practice is known as “zero rating”, and is a popular way to win over some customers, but goes against net neutrality pressuring customers to chooses one network over another. Essentially, if Facebook provided Free Basics for free in India, there wouldn’t be any way for other networks to compete.

“While we’re disappointed with today’s decision, I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement following the Free Basics ban. “ has many initiatives, and we will keep working until everyone has access to the internet.”

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