Earlier this year, Facebook started exploring its WiFi Express Service in India after the Free Basics debacle last year. Just a couple of weeks ago, the company completed a pilot run of Express WiFi in 125 villages. Now, an ET report, says that it has approached another government ISP, RailTel for offering WiFi in India.
RailTel is the communications arm of Indian Railways which offers optic fibre-based broadband service in India. In addition to that, its network is present across 4000 railway stations in India.
It has also partnered with Google to offer free WiFi hotspots at railway stations. It aims to cover 100 major railways stations with the service. Through a new partnership with Facebook, RailTel plans to expand its WiFi service to small villages near railway stations.
Confirming the report, RK Bahuguna, chairman of RailTel said,
“Facebook India has approached us for the WiFi initiative. We will engage with the company for the expansion of our Internet access programme across railways stations to cover villages in the vicinity.”
He further added that with this partnership, they can expand their connectivity to a 10-km radius from a rail stop.
This can be further increased up to 25 Km through additional access points. In this way, RailTel could provide Internet access to more than 40,000 villages surrounding 4,000 railway stations where it is already present.
On the other hand, Facebook has not commented anything yet on the report. However, the development is in line with its plans to offer the internet in India. Most probably, the partnership with RailTel will also come under the Express WiFi initiative.
Unlike Free Basics, this Facebook initiative enables local businesses and entrepreneurs with an option to buy bandwidth from ISPs and offer local WiFi services.
The company will provide both commercial and technical assistance to them. It will provide a customised software to these businesses to deal with a poor cellular network in rural areas.
It remains to be seen what might be the objective of Facebook behind such an initiative apart from its noble goal to connect a population of billions. Still, hopefully, it won’t have to face a strong rejection from the community this time. This is because there seems to be no violation of net neutrality which would allow selective free access to some websites.