Facebook is really desperate to enter the Internet game in India and they are trying to bring back their ‘Free Basics’ program again and it seems like they are not going to give up anytime soon. There was a raging debate the moment Facebook announced their plans for ‘Free Basics’ as net neutrality has always been a complex and blood boiling topic.
Facebook’s latest efforts include getting people in rural India to sign up on Facebook and the only way they can achieve that is with ‘Express WiFi’. It will basically let smartphone users buy data plans from local ISPs where Facebook will offer their software so that local ISPs and businessmen can sell data, which will be accessible via hotspots.
However the only difference from ‘Free Basics’ is that Internet access will not be given away for free. Express Wi-Fi is Facebook’s second attempt at reaching out to densely populated areas in India and they plan to do the same in other countries that have fast growing Internet users.
Facebook wanted to offer free Internet in rural areas through their ‘Free Basics’ program that would let users have access to only certain websites, i.e. mainly Facebook for free. This, in turn, backfired since the scheme seriously violated net-neutrality norms.
Offering free Internet meant that other social media websites like Twitter, Reddit and YouTube would be blocked and they would never get a chance to make their mark in the Indian internet sphere. In fact, the only way people would be able to access it if they paid extra which again is a direct violation of net-neutrality.
Since the uproar, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India banned ‘Free Basics’ in February 2016 due to the public referendum and outrage.
Facebook got in touch with us to give us a better picture as to what they are up to.
A Facebook spokesperson said-
· Currently we are working with ISP and operator partners to test Express Wi-Fi with public Wi-Fi deployments in multiple pilot sites. This solution empowers ISPs, operators, and local entrepreneur retailers to offer quality internet access to their village, town or region.
· Express Wi-Fi customers can purchase fast, reliable and affordable data packs via digital vouchers to access the Internet on the Express Wi-Fi network.
· We focus on building a sustainable economic model for all stakeholders involved, so that local retailer entrepreneurs, ISPs, operators, and Facebook can continue to invest in and operate lasting connectivity.
· We believe a sustainable economic model is the one which can scale to bring all of India online.