Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is reportedly making plans to provide free internet in India. UCWeb, Alibaba’s mobile internet subsidiary, is reportedly looking at negotiations with telecom companies and Wi-Fi providers to “offer lower cost data to users and better connectivity, even free of cost connectivity”.
The free internet services from Jio have been all the rage in the country since their launch in September for the general public but according to earlier announcements, the services will be charged post-April. In this situation where a large part of the population is used to free and reliable internet access, if the report turns out to be accurate, providing free internet post-Jio shows good potential for increasing Alibaba’s popularity among the Indian populace.
However, the possibility of free internet isn’t something entirely new to India. Facebook had tried a similar project via its internet.org platform and Free Basics but both failed to get past the legal barriers and popular opposition in the country. As for Alibaba, it is yet to be seen what kind of services they have planned to provide to the users. According to the existing rules, content cannot be linked to usage and that’s exactly what put a halt to Facebook’s Free Basics.
Apart from Reliance Jio, Google is also in the free internet domain in India with its partnership with RailTel to provide free internet via Wi-Fi at railway stations across the country. Another interesting aspect of the report is that Alibaba mentions their interest in providing internet access in areas that have poor connectivity and would actually benefit from free internet availability. So it may or may not launch in all regions.
The Chinese giant has also announced around Rs. 2 billion investment in India and Indonesia over the next two years. UCWeb has also been involved in content partnerships in the country. If they actually can and do launch the free internet service in the country, we could be looking at a strong presence of the Chinese e-commerce company in the Indian market.