After its Free Basics failed to gain purchase with the Indian telecommunication regulators, Facebook has embarked upon another one of its novel plans to take internet to the very depths of the Indian subcontinent. The company has begun engaging in talks with local ISPs to propagate its express Wi-fi plan in rural India.
Yup. We have been hearing about the express Wi-fi program from quite some while. Facebook has been projecting it as an internet-based initiative that will bring the web to millions of people in the rural areas. The company begun testing in the country a few months ago.
Well, the test phase appears to have been completed and has seen the rollout of 125 rural public WiFi hotspots in a tie-up with state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam. The company is now readying for the next phase which will see it engage with ISPs and entrepreneurs to provide localized internet hotspots.
Speaking on the topic, a Facebook India spokesperson said,
We are testing Express WiFi program in India that allows customers to purchase fast, reliable and affordable data packages from their local ISP to access the Internet via local hotspots.
Meanwhile, the company will also be creating a string of businesses running upon its Express Wi-Fi service. Since organizing and scaling the business has been left to local providers themselves, its certainly presents an opportunity for the enterprising crowd.
Facebook will, however, be providing customized software to businessmen, that will let them be better prepared for the difficulties posed by the poor cellular network in the rural areas. So basically, the company will provide technical as well as commercial assistance to businesses. As for what it will get out of it, remains a question to be answered completely.
Obviously, since a major part of the company’s revenue comes from its advertising services, getting more people on the web is in its best interests. There is also scope for Facebook to popularize itself by, say setting its website as the homepage whenever you access the web through one of its providers. We are not saying it will resort to such tactics, but yes, an unexplored avenue of users will certainly open up before Facebook.
Although it wont interfere with the scalability model of its local partners, we can expect the company to have some say in the pricing. After all, the whole point is to provide affordable internet to the masses and it won’t do to have differing and arbitrary pricing schemes. Hopefully, the company will restrain itself from discriminatory pricing scheme — which got Free Basics scrapped.
Meanwhile, the company has refrained from mentioning the names of the ISP providers it is in talks with, at this point in time. However, we can expect more information on that in the near future.