A look inside Facebook’s efforts to expand Wi-Fi in developing countries | Social
“We started talking to vendors and found a lot of excitement around solving and addressing these problems,” said Guy Mordecai, Facebook product lead for Express Wi-Fi. “What got us primarily excited that this is actually great that a) we could improve the experience b) leverage staff to get involved in markets c) it creates a lot of added value socially and economically.”
Fees are low, and users are allowed to access the entire internet through their device and are not limited to Facebook platforms. The company settled on this paid model after noticing people stopped using the service if they were required to go through a registration landing page in order to get access for free.
For example, in Tanzania, Facebook is providing funding to Habari Node to identify which areas have high foot traffic, like mosques, temples, schools and offices. The company then reaches out to nearby entrepreneurs like mom and pop shops that are open to running an additional WiFi business.
The company has also begun exploring partnerships with satellite providers, who would also provide internet access through access points like Express Wi-Fi Mordecai said. It is also working on “mesh” networks where one Wi-Fi access point talks to another to create broader areas of internet access. Tanzania is the first test area, with more regions to be announced. The information from the Aquila project is also being used to develop a high altitude platform station (HAPS) system to also provide Wi-Fi in these regions.
Though Facebook intends the internet access projects to have a “humanitarian” focus, it hasn’t always been positively received. An early effort called Internet.org only provided free limited access to the internet on mobile phones in developing countries, including Facebook-owned services. Advocacy groups complained restricting what people can do online “violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation.”