Facebook’s Express WiFi Aims To Provide Paid Internet Access; Is It Violating Net Neutrality?
Facebook’s is undeterred after the massive debacle of Free Basics. They are now back with another plan to offer Internet access to all Indian citizens: Express WiFi. However, there is a major change in their approach this time, which indicates that Facebook is in no mood to break the fundamentals of Net Neutrality.
However, things are still ambiguous as of now, and details are yet to emerge. For time being, let’s find out what’s in store for Internet deprived citizens of India this time..
What Is Express WiFi?
Facebook’s new offer, termed as Express WiFi, aims to create an ‘economically sustainable model’ for providing paid Internet access to those citizens who are still not able to access high speed Internet.
There would be three entities in this model: local retailers/entrepreneurs; ISPs and Facebook.
Tokickstart the operations, Facebook will install and provide the basic infrastructure for establishing a working WiFi based network: towers, routers, physical access points.
Internet Service Providers and Telecom Operators would be roped in provide connectivity, network operations, marketing, operations, customer support operations and distribution. Local retailers and entrepreneurs based around the targeted areas would be roped in to sell vouchers for accessing data via WiFi.
Now, users who wish to surf Internet needs to install an application and register with Facebook. After that, they simply need to purchase digital vouchers from the retailers, who will make some profit by becoming the middle-men in the whole process.
Apparent Advantages Of Express WiFi
From the available information and details, there are three major advantages currently visible in this model:
Protection of Net Neutrality: Considering that users would be paying for surfing high speed, WiFi based Internet, we are assuming right now that Facebook won’t be ‘controlling’ the access of websites/apps like in Free Basics. Hence, net neutrality would be saved and people can use fair but paid Internet.
Business for local entrepreneurs: By selling vouchers for accessing Internet via WiFi, local entrepreneurs can make some profits, thereby helping their ventures. Local economy would boom, and local businesses would get a boost. A win-win situation.
Expansion of Digital India: This model has been proposed in those locations, which has a minimum population of 5000 and has poor Internet connectivity of either 2G or 3G. Hence, it is clear that Facebook wants to reach where traditional internet hasn’t reached; and this will certainly help PM Modi’s Digital India mission.
Will Facebook Protect Net Neutrality With Express WiFi?
In fact, Facebook has already announced the launch of this model inside India. On their Internet.org website, Facebook has created a separate page for‘Express WiFi’, where they have mentioned that, “We’re currently live in India, and are expanding to other regions soon..”
Explaining it’s apparent advantages, Facebook says, “Express Wifi empowers local entrepreneurs to help provide quality internet access to their neighbors and make a steady income.”
However, in the next line, they have mentioned something which opens up a tiny window of doubt:
“Working with local internet service providers or mobile operators, they’re able to use software provided by Facebook to connect their communities.” This means that Internet can be accessed only using Facebook’s own platform.
And if this is the case, then the access can be controlled as well.
And lastly, there is another mention of few terms and words, which reminds us of the draconian Free Basics model. Facebook has said, “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.”
And right below this paragraph, is the link to ‘Add your website to Free Basics’.
Interestingly Facebook has refused to share details about the locations where Express WiFi has been started or the ISPs and Telecom players who have partnered with Facebook on this mission.
We sincerely hope that the ‘paid’ Internet provided by Facebook is unthrottled, fair, neutral and without any discrimination. If this is the case, then this can be the biggest and most noble cause initiated by Facebook ever.
However, if this is not the case, then Facebook will have to change their plans, just like they did with Free Basics. Net Neutrality activists are watching their every move.
We will keep you updated.