Facebook is holding talks with a number of ISPs in India to expand its Express Wi-Fi programme, after trials in rural areas in partnership with BSNL.
Express Wi-Fi, aimed at making broadband in rural areas more affordable, rolled out 125 rural public Wi-Fi hotspots with the state-run operator as part of a pilot project, the Economic Times reported.
The newspaper quoted a Facebook India representatives as saying: “We are testing the Express Wi-Fi programme in India that allows customers to purchase fast, reliable and affordable data packages from their local ISP to access the internet via local hotspots.”
Facebook has developed software that helps ISPs bridge the coverage gaps in rural cellular data networks. It has not named the ISPs it plans to partner with.
Facebook has faced a series of setbacks in India over the past year after it introduced its Free Basics service. The country’s telecoms regulator in February ruled against differential data pricing following a national debate and furious lobbying by supporters and opponents of its Free Basics zero rating service.
Free Basics is a product of Facebook’s internet.org initiative that offers users free access to a range of data services, including the social network.
Only a third of the population has internet access, so India is a key market for Facebook’s internet initiatives. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India also has been pushing public Wi-Fi to expand access to the internet.
The regulator noted that while the number of worldwide Wi-Fi hotspots expanded six-fold over the past year, India has seen growth of just 12 per cent, the Times said.