In February, TRAI passed a landmark judgment disallowing any plans with differential pricing on any of the service providers. That marked the end of Facebook's ambitious Free Basics program. Fast forward to today and the social networking giant is now planning to launch a commercial WiFi service in India.
According to a report in ET, the company wants to launch 125 rural WiFi hotspots in partnership with BSNL. This initiative is under their Express WiFi program.
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.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have always expressed open interest in connecting people of India to the Internet. 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.
The search giant has tied up with the Indian government to provide Internet access to more railways stations in the coming years. That's not it. The company is also planning to give the 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.