It seems like Facebook isn’t giving up on its quest to offer affordable internet access in the poorer parts of the country. According to a report by the Economic Times, Facebook is in talks with internet service providers (ISPs) to commercially launch its Express Wi-Fi program in rural India. Express Wi-Fi is the company’s initiative to bring affordable broadband access to rural areas. The report notes that the program has completed a pilot roll out of 125 rural public Wi-Fi hotspots in partnership with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL).
A Facebook spokesperson said, “We are testing Express Wi-Fi program in India currently that allows customers to purchase fast, reliable and affordable data packages from their local ISP (internet service providers) to access the Internet via local hotspots.”
The company hasn’t revealed the names of ISPs that it is in talks with. Further, the report suggests that it has left it partners to develop a scalable business model. For its part, Facebook has developed customised software the rural markets that are aimed at helping ISPs or entrepreneurs run a business in their localities.
To recall, Facebook had earlier tried to bring free internet to rural India in the form of Internet.org, which was later renamed to Free Basics. The service was launched in early 2015 in partnership with Reliance. However, the service was accused of violating net neutrality and was services were temporarily halted in December last year. In February this year, The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ruled against differential data plans and Facebook pulled Free Basics from India soon after.