Facebook is working on bringing the internet to India’s rural areas



Facebook said earlier this month that it’s testing Express Wi-Fi in several remote areas of India. Now it seems the company also plans to bring this service to railway stations and rural regions. The world’s largest social media network is in talks with RailTel to provide internet services at railway stations, RailTel chairman RK Bahuguna told Economic Times. Bahuguna added that they have asked the Facebook to bring connectivity to smaller railway stations and rural areas in their vicinity.

Rail Tel offers internet facilities tapping the optic fibre cable that runs alongside railway tracks that cover almost 70 percent of the country. If the company’s name rings a bell, that’s because it also partnered with Google to launch free Wi-Fi services in 400 railway stations by 2017. The announcement was made by Google CEO Sundar Pichai during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Valley last year. Google says the service, has gone live in 19 stations and is being utilized by over 1.5 million people.

However, RailTel’s partnership with Facebook could extend beyond railway stations. The project could bring data services up to a 10 km radius from a connected railway station, Bahuguna said, adding that this range could be expanded up to 25km via additional access points.

Facebook’s Free Basics (formerly known as Internet.org) received a lot of flak from privacy advocates in India last year. The service, which is operating in emerging region such as Indonesia, offers users free access to select internet services for free. This wall-gardened approach had many resulting in Indians opting for no internet access than having some internet access. Google’s free Wi-Fi service, on the other hand, has received appreciations from almost everyone because of its open and fair nature.

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The world’s second most populous nation India remains one of the biggest growth regions for any company. About 1.3 billion people who live in India, only about 300 million people are on the internet. However, analysts predict India could have as many as 730 million internet users as soon as 2020, which shows why Google and Facebook are leaving no stone un turned to ensure they reach out to them first.