Like Facebook and Google, China's UCWeb is looking to offer free internet in India

UCWeb, a subsidiary of China’s Alibaba group, is looking to make inroads in India by offering subsidised or even free internet access to Indians.

Update: On speaking to UCWeb, we were told this 'plan' is nothing more than a long-term vision that the company has for our country. They add that any mention of a plan right now is only speculation as no concrete details are available.

UCWeb also issued the following statement to us, "Internet access for all is integral to realize the Digital India dream and a long-term vision for UCWeb. Being the No.1 mobile browser in India not only means we are supported by the local market, but that we should take on our responsibility to serve them with better technology and products. We are committed to creating a product that helps millions of users access mobile internet in under-connected or unconnected parts of the country. At the same time, we respect and strictly adhere to local regulations of each country we operate in."

Our original report is as follows:

UCWeb, a subsidiary of China’s Alibaba group, is looking to make inroads in India by offering subsidised or even free internet access to Indians.

Indians are very familiar with UC Browser, currently the most popular browser in our country. It shot to fame many years ago and was seen as a competitor to Opera Mini. This was UCWeb’s original offering, but it’s services have since expanded to include mobile search, ebooks, mobile gaming, etc.

UCWeb was acquired by Alibaba Group in 2014.

Speaking to Business Insider, Jack Huang, President of Overseas Business, Mobile Business, Alibaba UC, indicated that the company was in talks with various service providers and Wi-Fi providers to bring lower data costs, better internet connectivity and maybe even free internet to India.

Alibaba’s UCWeb intends to invest over Rs 200 crore in India and Indonesia over the next two years. And, as BI points out, the company is looking to develop a rather large content generation platform as it gears up to hire over 30,000 bloggers and content creators.

Like Facebook and Google, Chinas UCWeb is looking to offer free internet in India

Image: Reuters

On the surface, this does indeed look like another attempt to reincarnate Facebook’s infamous internet.org / Free Basics program.

Last year, Facebook attempted to launch a “free” internet program in India called Free Basics. Ostensibly, Free Basics was to offer free internet to India’s citizens. In reality, however, Free Basics intended to allow users access only to certain sites and these select sites would be curated exclusively by Facebook.

Understandably, people were angry, the government stepped in and Free Basics was quashed.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) issued an order against differential pricing and banned any service that offered differential access to services on the internet.

Google, however, took a better approach with its Railwire project. It simply worked with the government to offer free internet to anyone who could access a RailWire hotspot. This internet wasn’t curated in anyway and the access actually was free.

UCWeb hasn’t clarified its intentions yet so it’s too early to speculate on its plans. Huang only goes so far as to tell BI that the company is looking at the country in a “geographic way”. It might offer free services in states with little to no internet access, for example.

The exact mechanism for this is unknown.

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