Facebook Plans Expansion Of ‘Express Wi-Fi’ In Rural India

Social networking giant Facebook is reportedly in talks with Internet service providers (ISPs) to expand its Express WiFi program into a commercial launch in India. The company has completed a pilot rollout of 125 rural public Wi-Fi hotspots in a tie-up with state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam.

Express WiFi is a Mark Zuckerberg headed Internet giant’s initiative aimed at taking affordable broadband to the rural areas of the country in partnerships with Internet service companies and small entrepreneurs.

“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,” a Facebook India spokesperson told ET Tech.

Facebook, however, did not reveal the names of service providers that it is in discussions with, and has left it to its partners to come up with a scalable business model.

The social media company has developed customized software for rural markets, which will help ISPs and/or entrepreneurs to run a business within their localities, helping bridge coverage gaps in India’s rural cellular data networks.

“Facebook is investing in the development of the connectivity ecosystem by providing techno-commercial assistance to local ISP partners and entrepreneurs,” a person aware of the matter said.

Facebook’s previous initiative to connect the unconnected through Free Basics had to be pulled out from India after telecom regulator banned discriminatory pricing of data services, which included zero-rated services.

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