Facebook to Launch Not Free Wifi in Rural India With Local ISPs

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Facebook is in talks with internet service providers (ISPs) to expand its Express Wifi program into a commercial launch in India, reports The Economic Times. This initiative differs from the company’s “Free Basics” program as users will have to pay for access from local internet providers this time.

This follows the completion of a pilot roll out of 125 rural public wifi hotspots in a collaboration with state run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

Express wifi is a part of Mark Zuckerberg’s initiative aimed at taking affordable broadband to the rural areas  of the country in partnerships with internet service companies and small entrepreneurs. Currently, the company is testing “Express wifi”, which allows customers to purchase fast, reliable and affordable data packages from their local internet service providers, to access internet through local hotspots.

Facebook is letting their unnamed business partner come up with a scalable business model. The social media company is focusing on developing customized software for rural markets which will help entrepreneurs and companies to run a business within their localities.

This initiative will help bridge coverage gaps in India’s rural cellular data networks.

Facebook’s previous initiative to connect the unconnected through its ‘Free Basics’ platform had to be pulled out from India due to bans from telecom regulators. However, India continues to remain key for Facebook’s future. A technology report conducted by Akamai puts India at 131 out of 189 countries in terms of broadband penetration, underlining its potential.

India’s telecom regulator is also determined to give a push to public wifi through a consultation process.

For India to reach a goal of one hotspot for every 150 people, 8 additional hotspots will have to be installed.

A version of this appeared in The Economic Times on August 8. Read the full version here.