Facebook Returns to India With 'Express Wi-Fi'


Facebook in February pulled its Free Basics Internet service from India following a countrywide ban. But the social network has a new plan to connect the second most populous nation.

In the early stages of testing its new Express Wi-Fi program, Facebook's Internet.org team is working with carriers, ISPs, and entrepreneurs "to help expand connectivity to underserved locations around the world." The pilot program recently launched in India, where a state-run telecom company is providing Internet access via 125 local hotspots throughout rural India, according to the BBC.

Other regions are coming "soon," according to the Internet.org site.

"Express Wi-Fi empowers local entrepreneurs to help provide quality Internet access to their neighborhoods and make a steady income," the Facebook division said. "Working with local Internet service providers or mobile operators, they're able to use software provided by Facebook to connect their communities."

Mark Zuckerberg announced in 2013 that he wanted to connect "the next 5 billion people"—a promise that developed into Free Basics (then called Internet.org), which provides people with cheap smartphones and access to specific services that don't eat into monthly data usage.

The app launched in early 2015 in six Indian states with more than three dozen Web services. Officials, however, complained that Facebook favored its partners—a violation of net neutrality.

Rather than providing users with access to the entire Web and letting them pick and choose their services, Free Basics offers prioritized access to specific apps that would likely benefit from an influx of new users.

As concerns mounted, a handful of initial partners ditched the program and in February, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India prohibited service providers from offering Free Basics.

Zuckerberg has long defended the service, saying it does not block or throttle other applications or create fast lanes—two things net neutrality advocates oppose.

"When people are able to purchase fast, affordable and reliable Internet, they're able to explore the range of information it has to offer, including news, education, health, job postings, entertainment, and communication tools like Facebook," the Express Wi-Fi website says.

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