Chinese Internet giant Alibaba’s UCWeb is currently negotiating with telecom service providers (SP’s) and Wi-Fi providers to provide free Internet service in India, Jack Huang, President of Overseas Business, Alibaba Mobile Business told Business Insider India.
“We will definitely look at the opportunity to work together with service providers or even some Wi-Fi providers. We are trying to offer lower cost data to users and better connectivity, even free of cost connectivity. Wi-Fi providers and other players can be potentials and we are in talk (stage).”
The Chinese company is considering providing free Internet services to states that have connectivity problems. “We actually think in geographic way because in India not every state is suffering from connectivity problem so we will focus more on providing this kind of services to states that are suffering more and also we will have comprehensive analysis on already existing consumers who will actually need this kind of service,” added Huang.
This will not be the first time an international Internet behemoth has tried to provide free internet in India.
- Social networking leader Facebook had launched its internet.org and then Free Basic initiatives in India but both failed to get past the regulations in the country. There were only a limited amount of sites that the users could access for free with Facebook’s initiative. The plans hit a major roadblock with Indian telecom regulator TRAI. Techcrunch reported:
Facebook discovered that scaling in India is not so simple. While most of the debate around Free Basics, and its subsequent defeat, centered around net neutrality, the saga is really the result of a set of larger, incorrect assumptions by Facebook on how to reach and on-ramp rural customers.
However, Facebook’s Internet initiatives met with heavy backlash in India from “net neutrality” advocates, who claimed that Free Basics only allowed access to selected websites thus violating the principle that the entire Internet should be available to everyone on equal terms. Current rules in India do not allow anyone to connect content with usage and the telecom regulator is in the process of defining Net Neutrality for the country. If Alibaba is looking at connecting its own content to the free usage it will inevitably have issues with the telecom regulator as was seen in Facebook’s Free Basics.
- Google’s (free for now) managed WiFi service was available in 100 railway stations in India at year end 2016. Google collaborated with RailTel, the communication arm of the Indian Railways to provide the free WiFi service.
Last September, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced a fairly ambition plan to bring free WiFi to 400 railway stations across India, a goal that would cover 10 million passengers a day by the company’s count. That would make a relatively small, but meaningful impact on the estimated one billion-plus people in the country who aren’t connected to the Internet.
Alibaba is reportedly still working on the plans around its free Internet service in India and is still in talks with “potential partners.” The company has not stated what wireless technologies might be used for Internet access, but WiFi is probably the top choice. Also, nothing has been said about whether wire-line Internet access for business or homes would also be included in Alibaba’s free Internet plans for India.