The Indian Railways will start talks with Facebook India to offer free Wi-Fi connectivity at rural stations and surrounding villages, a report published by The Economic Times on Thursday said. RK Bahuguna, the chairperson of Railways communications arm RailTel said the social media company had approached the state-run corporation in connection with providing free internet services to rural parts of the country.
While Facebook declined to comment on this, Bahuguna said the Railways will “engage with the company for the expansion of our internet access programme”. He added that the initiative, if successful, will enable the availability of data services of up to a 10-kilometre radius from a connected railway station, which can “further be increased by up to 25-kilometres via additional access points”. Facebook recently concluded a pilot programme for its Express Wi-Fi service across 125 locations in rural India.
The potential tie-up between RailTel and Facebook will co-exist with the former’s partnership with technology giant Google to provide free Wi-Fi to at least 100 railway stations in the country. The Economic Times said that currently nearly two million people access free Wi-Fi every month across 21 railway stations in the country under the Google-RailTel partnership.
The news comes six months after the California-based company withdrew its Free Basics internet programme from the country following a ruling by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in favour of net neutrality.