Google, Facebook among Silicon Valley majors to lead India's broader free internet

By Money Times

Nov 26, 2015 08:16 AM EST

Silicon Valley technology firms see robust business potential in India as over a billion people are without internet access. Most of the US-based technology majors are looking to India to bring more people online to get connected to their services.

Google will cover 100 Indian railway stations under Wi-Fi by the end of next year while Facebook's initiative is facing criticism in the country.

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, India, held discussions with technology firms in the US on evolving a roadmap for bringing internet access to everyone in the country, CNN reports.

Narendra Modi, during his recent visit to the US, met the officials from the American global giants Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Tesla, Cisco, Adobe and Qualcomm.

Modi's vision to get as many Indian as possible online and he sought the involvement of US technology companies in this initiative for extending their infrastructure and resources.

Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have already firmed up their plans to support internet access in India. Interestingly, Chief Executives of Google and Microsoft are Indians.

For instance, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai is planning to provide free internet access to Indian railway passengers. Initially, Google plans to cover 100 major railway stations under Wi-Fi coverage by the end of 2016. 

Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft, is keen on providing low-cost internet in Indian villages. Though there's national fiber network, few can access it. Microsoft is in the process to help broadcast Wi-Fi signals in between TV stations. 

Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg-run foundation is focusing on connecting people without internet access. It has tied up with Reliance in India. All subscribers of Reliance can access free internet via Facebook's free basics. 

According to the Indian Express, Facebook launched in India in October, to provide basic internet services to Reliance subscribers at free of cost.

Earlier, it was available in six states covering Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Kerala. Now, with the latest announcement, the free internet via Facebook is available to all Reliance subscribers across India., the internet project of Facebook, has been renamed as free basics, which is available on all Android phones. However, the Facebook's initiative has been at the center of criticism on social media on grounds of net neutrality.

According to Technology Review,  Indian internet companies, contrary to these developments, have started criticizing the Facebook's initiative as it'll breach the net neutrality.

Facebook's project offers certain online services without incurring data charges and this is known as 'zero rating.' However, companies turned against this practice which breaches net neutrality, the practice of binding all the internet service providers in treating several online services with the same lines. 

NDTV, The Times Group, etc, have turned against the zero rating program. India's largest online shopping site, travel site Cleartrip, new site News Hunt also joined the campaign opposing the zero-rating scheme.

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