Facebook Express Wi-Fi vs Free Basics: The key differences between these two initiatives

Express Wi-Fi, is pure business and it is Facebook's idea to allow more users in "underserved locations" to hop online.

Facebook's journey in India has been a rather adventurous one. It's been loved by millions, welcomed with open arms, then stamped and spat upon by thousands (for Free Basics), but it never seems to give up. Indeed, many would think of Facebook as having a social conscience because of the way Facebook still proactively tries to address the various social issues plaguing the platform.

So after the Facebook Free Basics fiasco, the company back in November was revealed to be working on something new and open called Facebook Express Wi-Fi. From our preliminary research, we could indeed find no flaws, and certainly no reasons to charge Facebook with anything on this one. Today, the Press Trust of India reported that the social network will now use Bharti Airtel's network to enable 20,000 Wi-Fi hotspots all over the country. So what is Facebook doing here? And how is it different from its earlier, shuttered, Free Basics initiative?

Facebook Express Wi-Fi

There's plenty of reasons to believe that Facebook with Express Wi-Fi is not cheating anyone out here. It's pure business and it is Facebook's idea to allow more users in "underserved locations" to hop online. Yes, this one is targeted at rural India.

Facebook will basically use Bharti Airtel's existing network to sell its paid Express Wi-Fi internet data services to customers at low prices by going local. In short, Facebook will enable local entrepreneurs to distribute internet data plans, at a price, to their neighbours. This, according to Facebook, would not only help more people get online, but also help these local entrepreneurs make a steady income.

Facebook will provide the hardware and software chops for local businesses to run their internet business. The Express Wi-Fi internet service could be provided by both local ISPs or mobile operators.

Indeed, its not all philanthropy at work here. While it may not be out there and up front, Facebook does stand to gain more users from this. Facebook's Business pages could benefit from this as well. But it's fair game here as everyone benefits.

How it's different

Free Basics by Facebook was meant to provide free internet to the same "underserved locations", however, the internet was anything but "free". As it was discovered, the free internet services provided went completely again the tenets of net neutrality. While the internet came free of cost, it was a walled garden, with limited websites for users to browse through.

While Facebook painted it as a free of cost service to help users benefit from a hand-picked selection of websites – hand-picked by Facebook no less – everyone else saw it for what it was, a service that attempted to reign in the free spirit of the internet. In short, it was terrible execution of what may have been a great idea.

So, the Express Wi-Fi is different from Free Basics. It provides internet access at a price, helps local entrepreneurs make a living and more importantly, gives truly open internet access to remote areas of the country that should benefit users and Facebook.

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