Facebook meets skepticism in bid to expand internet in India | Techno stream

Facebook meets skepticism in bid to expand internet in India

26 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Strives to Bring Cheap Wi-Fi to Rural India.

MUMBAI: If Mark Zuckerberg hopes to deliver on his vision of bringing the Internet to the 4 billion people who lack it, the Facebook chief will first need to make his plan more appealing to salesmen like Shoaib Khan.NARENDRA NAGAR, India — On a rooftop at the Shri Kunjapuri temple, located a mile high in the foothills of the Himalayas, a metal tower with five microwave relay dishes pokes a bit further into the sky. Khan’s perfume and cellphone shop in one of this city’s many slums recently displayed a large blue banner advertising Zuckerberg’s project, called Internet.org, in the back. Lord Vishnu’s carrier and pacifier, the Garuda is no less than the epitome of divinity, believed to have led to the formation of two branches of the Sam Vedas – the Brihat and the Rathantara. “Garuda, the celestial carrier of Lord Venkateswara has an inseparable link to Tirupati.

Under Internet.org project, which was introduced in India in February, the world’s largest social network provides free internet access through a stripped-down service that minimizes data usage and cost to participating phone companies. Another sign for the free package of Internet services — offered in India through the cellphone carrier Reliance Communications — was posted prominently in front. But that tower and others like it, parts of a communications network spanning 2,500 square miles of mountainous terrain, are the key to Facebook’s little-known ambition in India: to build a network of cheap Wi-Fi access points that would help residents in remote villages, like those here in the Garhwal region near the Nepalese border, log on to the Internet almost as easily as people do in the West. It’s worth pointing out that in spite of criticism from Internet activists in India, an undeterred Facebook has continued to expand its Free Basics service in the country.

The dishes relay signals to and from a base station in the valley below, other mountain towers and, ultimately, Internet access points in about 40 villages. It is aimed at making Internet accessible to more people by providing access to basic Internet services such as news, health, local jobs, communication and government related information for free.

Many cellphone users in some of India’s slums have not even heard of Internet.org, but many of them complain about Reliance’s slow data network and poor customer service compared to market leaders Airtel and Vodafone. In April, Prasad told the Parliament that he would soon call a meeting of all service providers to look into the problem of frequent call drops being faced by customers. According to Michael Ginguld, AirJaldi’s director of strategy and operations, nearly 30,000 customers in the region are currently using the service.

The skepticism of phone sellers like Khan and the weaknesses of Facebook’s Indian partner are just two of the problems that have bedeviled Zuckerberg’s project so far. For 10 rupees, or about 15 cents, customers can buy one day’s access to 100 megabytes of data; $3 will buy 20 gigabytes of data, which can be used over the course of a month. Facebook is investing heavily in other parts of the project, including experiments to deliver cheap Wi-Fi to remote villages and to beam internet service from high-flying drones, the newspaper said. In a Facebook post in July last year, Zuckerberg said, “A year ago, I announced Internet.org, our effort to bring affordable internet access to everyone in the world.

Recently, a steady stream of young men stopped by the clothing shop that is the sole vendor of Express Wi-Fi in the village to buy a bit of data and chat with the proprietor, Maken Singh Aswal. Or they can pay Rs 200 and get 20GB of data with a month’s validity, which is much cheaper than what most Internet Service Provides charge in India.

But many Indians want more and complain that, contrary to its altruistic claims, the project is simply a way to get them onto Facebook and sign up for paid plans from Reliance. When he was explained what it was, he dismissed it saying, “The Reliance connection is very patchy,” before adding, “I would really have to sell the customer on it.” However, Facebook has said that it will not be withdrawing Internet.org from India. Internet activists have also attacked Facebook for cherry-picking partners to include in its walled garden rather than simply offering a small amount of free access to the whole Internet.

In modern day terms this man is trying to reach his ‘Moksha’ (salvation).” “For me the life of struggle is an experience, it is a kind of disorientation which is the beginning and end, and in that way it’s like a closed question, that operates in a basic perceptual textbook in the human psyche, which also tells the reader. We’re starting to see this vision become a reality, and we’ve already helped 3 million people access the internet who had no access before.” In a country like India though, the problem is slightly different.

The Express Wi-Fi plan supplemented his Airtel data plan, but he said it had a major drawback. “It only works on one side of the house,” he said, gesturing around the main room of his family’s small home. Unlike Internet.org or Free Basics, where access is limited only to stripped down versions of websites approved by Facebook, Express Wi-Fi users can access anything on the Internet without any restrictions. But he remains passionate about his crusade. “Internet access needs to be treated as an important enabler of human rights and human potential,” he told the United Nations last month. Although Facebook began by working with mobile operators, issues such as network access, coverage quality and call drop are impediments that pose a hurdle towards the noble objective.

That was a common complaint about Express Wi-Fi, which has a single access point in this town of 5,000 people and focuses the signal on the main business strip. And his posture that I have created is one that speaks of the Garuda taking flight.” “The sculpture – while depicting the concept of the building based on the widespread wings of ‘Garuda’, the vahana of Lord Vishnu, popularly known as Lord Venkateswara, the presiding deity of this place, signifying the flights taking off – symbolises the human being unshackling the ‘self’ from the bondage of ‘maya’ and carrying the ‘atman’ (soul) to reach the ultimate bliss of attaining ‘moksha’”.

Perhaps the top most agenda for Zuckerberg during his India visit this week ought to be improving connectivity in India, before he could accomplish his goal of bring billions more online, and eventually on Facebook. In September this year, Facebook announced that it was renaming Internet.org to Free Basics and had made the platform live to all developers to include their content. Across India, Facebook already has about 130 million users — only the United States has more users — and wider use will eventually translate to more advertising revenue for the company.

But in the neighborhood’s narrow alleys, where rivulets of raw sewage competed with sandaled feet, there was little evidence that anyone had noticed Internet.org. Seth said. “We hope they will connect to Facebook, but that’s not the primary mission.” Facebook has no desire to enter directly into the Internet service business. The companies have tested various pricing models, including offering some service for free, but have concluded that charging a consistent, low price is the best approach. Phone-card vendors are key advisers, educating people about all their options. “New customers don’t come looking for Freenet,” said Khan, who is no relation to Shoaib Khan.

Even if Reliance’s network were good, he said, the package excludes WhatsApp, a popular messaging app owned by Facebook, and users must pay to see the photos in their Facebook feeds. “If you have to pay for data, what’s the point of calling it free?” he said. Facebook and AirJaldi decided that there should be just one authorized seller per village to give that person a strong incentive to sell as many subscriptions as possible. “That’s how connectivity spread in terms of satellite TV in India,” said Chris Daniels, the global head of the Internet.org project. “There was an entrepreneur in every town who had a dish. Khan noted that another carrier had recently awarded him his choice of a Hero motorcycle or 45,000 rupees — nearly $700 — for signing up 1,000 customers. In more than 2 dozen interviews in poor neighborhoods of Mumbai, a reporter found several people who had tried Internet.org but only one who used it regularly — a 23-year-old man who said he used the free version of Facebook Messenger on the app to chat with friends when he ran out of money on his prepaid account. So it’s a model that has proved to work in the past and we’re simply applying that to Internet connectivity.” A version of this article appears in print on 10/26/2015, on page B4 of the NewYork edition with the headline: On Himalayan Hillsides, Wi-Fi Comes to Hamlets .

After their first 30 days online, he said, about 40 percent of them became paying data customers, 5 percent stuck with only free services and the rest left. “This is a program that is working to bring people online, and working incredibly well,” Daniels said. “Connectivity is something that improves people’s lives. In a recent interview, however, the agency’s chairman, Ram Sewak Sharma, was skeptical of Internet.org. “Maybe they have wonderful objectives, but the way it is being implemented, that’s not really appropriate,” he said.

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