Social networking giant Facebook has rolled out in India, its ‘Express Wi-Fi’ service that offers Internet facility through public hotspots to users in rural parts of the country.
The commercial roll out of the project comes a year after Facebook pulled the plug on the controversial ‘Free Basics’ programme that drew severe criticism from advocates of net neutrality.
Unlike Free Basics that provided access to selected websites for free, Express Wi-Fi works on a “paid” model and the access will not be restricted to any particular websites. Users can log onto public wi-fi hotspots made available through partner telecom operators and buy daily, weekly or monthly data packs being sold through local entrepreneurs.
These hotspots will begin to be deployed over the next few months, the social networking major said in a statement. Express WiFi is part of Facebook’s global initiative to spread internet connectivity. It started testing Express Wi-Fi in India in 2015 and, working with internet services providers (ISPs) and over 500 local entrepreneur-retailers, have made it commercially available through nearly 700 hotspots across the four Indian states of Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Meghalaya.
Facebook has also onboarded as a partner, telecom giant Bharti Airtel, which will deploy over 20,000 wi-fi hotspots over the next few months. “India’s population is about 1.3 billion people, but only 390 million are connected to the Internet. Express Wi-Fi is part of our global initiative and we want to expand Internet connectivity to underserved locations
Facebook said that anyone could access the Express Wi-Fi network by signing up with an Express Wi-Fi retailer and purchasing a daily, weekly or monthly data pack at a rate set by our partners. They will then be able to connect to the Express Wi-Fi hotspot, register/create an account, login and start browsing or use any app on the entire internet.
In addition to our newly announced partnership with Airtel, Express Wi-Fi has been deployed in partnership with ISPs AirJaldi in Uttarakhand, LMES in Rajasthan, Tikona in Gujarat, and soon with Shaildhar in Meghalaya.