The social networking giant, Facebook has been consistently working to improve the quality of services offered in India. It has rolled out the ‘Express Wi-Fi’ service that will offer internet facilities to users in rural areas of the Country. The service will be offered through the availability public hotspots across the Country. Last year, Facebook faced severe criticism due to the ‘Free Basics’ program which focused on net neutrality. Free Basics provided access to a few selected websites for free, whereas express Wi-Fi works on a paid model and there will be no restrictions on access to any websites. Free Basics Program was launched in 2015 in partnership with Reliance Communications, this program allowed access to a few selected websites and it met with severe criticism because this was seen as a violation of net neutrality. Facebook reluctantly pulled the plug on this program in India, but it continues to run the same across many Countries.
Facebook has tied up with telecom operators in the country to enable users to log onto the public Wi-Fi hotspots and purchase the daily, weekly or monthly packs being sold from the local entrepreneurs. Facebook has partnered with Bharti Airtel, which will deploy about 20,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in the next few months. With a population of over 1.3 billion, only about 390 million have access to the internet. Through ‘Express Wi-Fi’, Bharti Airtel aims to expand the Internet connectivity to different locations throughout the Country. Facebook is said to be working with Internet service providers as well as 500 local entrepreneur retailers in India. In the last few years, the Internet user base has seen a massive jump due to the affordability of smartphones and the falling data prices due to increased competition among service providers.
Currently, Google is providing free Internet access at various railway stations across the Country by using public Wi-Fi hotspots. The market remains unpenetrated and it has a huge scope for any efforts that are directed towards increasing the user base. Facebook will allow the operator to decide on the pricing and it will only provide solutions to handle the data as the traffic flows through the system. The Express Wi-Fi service is available at 700 hotspots across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Meghalaya and Uttarakhand. These services were started in 2015 and are being expanded across various cities in 2017. The operators are free to set the tariffs according to the plan.
It will be interesting to see how the expansion of this program impacts the internet users. With an increasing number of public hotspots, the telecom partners will be able to increase the user base and reach out to new smartphone users. Various countries already have public Wi-Fi spots that offer free Wi-Fi to users, India has finally stepped up the game and is prepared to offer quick access to internet and enable the telecom companies to reach out across different States.