Facebook isn’t giving up on its quest to bring the World Wide Web to the world, even if its methods sometimes seem to violate net neutrality. Undeterred by a recent setback in its Free Basics initiative in India, Facebook is now pressing forward again with its internet.org project, this time with a new initiative it’s calling Express Wi-Fi.
No, this project doesn’t involve loons or drones that beam Wi-Fi down to us terrestrial beings — rather, it’s a straightforward attempt at helping local entrepreneurs resell access to the internet by way of a partnership with Indian telecommunications company Bharti Airtel. The hope is that over the course of the next few months, Facebook will help India add an additional 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots, assisting a larger proportion of the Indian people in their quest to get online.
It’s not just Bharti Airtel that will help provide these hot spots. Facebook is also planning to partner with internet service providers (ISPs) like AirJaldi in Uttarakhand, LMES in Rajasthan, Tikona in Gujarat, and Shaildhar in Meghalaya.
“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 Asia Pacific Head of Connectivity Solutions Munish Seth told the Economic Times. More than 500 local entrepreneurs will also be involved in the project, and Seth noted, “The market still remains under-penetrated and all these efforts (by others) will help expand it further.”
So what exactly is Facebook’s role in all this? According to Seth, the social media platform will stay out of the way, simply providing platforms and solutions as needed. “We will not charge the ISP/telecom operator or the entrepreneur. The operator decides on the pricing and will handle the data as the Internet traffic flows through their system,” he said. “We are just providing the solutions.”
James Beldock, Facebook’s product manager for Express Wi-Fi, echoed these sentiments in an interview with TechCrunch, noting, “Our strategy has always been that these programs work if they are financially sustainable for the partners we work with. Facebook’s strategy is to enable partners to make connectivity at scale sustainable, not to dictate pricing.”
Express Wi-Fi has already made its debut in Kenya, and is also undergoing trial runs in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Indonesia.