Facebook ditches Free Basics for paid Wi-Fi service in India

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Facebook Wi-Fi is finally available in India with the launch of the company’s new paid internet service.

Express Wi-Fi allows India’s mobile phone owners in underserved locations to purchase data from local internet service providers in order to access the internet. A pilot version of the program, in partnership with a state-owned telecoms provider, is currently live at 125 rural Wi-Fi hot spots in the country, reports the BBC.

“Express Wi-Fi empowers local entrepreneurs to help provide quality internet access to their neighbors and make a steady income,” writes Facebook on its Internet.org website. “Working with local internet service providers or mobile operators, they’re able to use software provided by Facebook to connect their communities.”

With over 142 million Facebook users, India is Facebook’s second-largest market (with the U.S. in first place). A majority of that figure (133 million) access Facebook via mobile, making India a natural starting point for Facebook’s global internet-serving ambitions. There’s just one major problem: The country is skeptical of the social network’s advances, in particular its free internet program.

Free Basics by Facebook, which offers free mobile internet access to selected websites, suffered a huge setback in January when it was banned by India’s telecom regulator. The governing body cited net neutrality principles as a decisive factor in its ruling.

“While we’re disappointed with [the] decision, I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the time. “We will keep working until everyone has access to the Internet.”

Express Wi-Fi skirts the entire net neutrality debate by charging for unrestricted web access. Consequently, Facebook’s long-term goal of providing internet access to developing nations in a bid to broaden its user base will now likely continue unabated.

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