By Jennifer Cowan

 

The social networking firm, which began testing Express Wifi this summer, told Mashable the program was now live, giving the country’s residents access to fast, reliable, and affordable data. As part of the initiative, local telecommunications companies provide Internet access via local hotspots throughout the more remote areas of the country.

 

Express Wifi empowers local entrepreneurs to help provide quality internet access to their neighbors and make a steady income. Working with local internet service providers or mobile operators, they’re able to use software provided by Facebook to connect their communities,” reads the Express Wifi webpage. “When people are able to purchase fast, affordable and reliable Internet, they’re able to explore the range of information it has to offer including news, education, health, job postings, entertainment, and communication tools like Facebook.”

 

News of Express Wifi’s launch comes several months after Facebook’s Free Basics service hit a major roadblock in India. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ruled back in February that cellular operators would be required to charge the same price for all content and created a new law, the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, to enforce its decision. Implementation of that law, meant that, legally, Reliance Communications — which was partnering with Facebook via its internet.org program — would be unable to bring back the free basic Internet to Indian mobile customers.

 

Free Basics, the brainchild of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is a program from internet.org, a global initiative to make Internet access available to five billion new households in underdeveloped areas by 2023. Under Free Basics, users in Mumbai, Maharashtra and Goa, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Chennai, and Kerala regions, were able to access Facebook and Facebook Messenger, Wikipedia, Bing Search, Dictionary.com, Accuweather, BabyCenter & MAMA, Malaria No More and a number of local and international news organizations.

 

Facebook did not reveal which Indian cities now have access to Express Wifi, saying the company is still conducting tests around the service. The cost to access the service also has not been released.