Facebook's Free Basics initiative was shuttered in India last year after the country's telecom regulator deemed it violated net neutrality. The social network has since shifted focus to Express Wi-Fi, another project that falls under the purview of its internet.org program.

Express Wi-Fi is a paid public Wi-Fi service that aims to deliver fast and reliable internet connectivity to underserved regions. Facebook started trialing the service in India back in 2015, working with ISPs and over local entrepreneurs to set up 700 hotspots in rural regions across four states. The company is now announcing the commercial launch of Express Wi-Fi in India, with Facebook tying up with Bharti Airtel — the country's largest carrier — to launch an additional 20,000 Wi-Fi hotspots.

Facebook Express Wi-Fi

With Express Wi-Fi, Facebook is encouraging entrepreneurs to team up with ISPs to resell internet access to their communities. In addition to Airtel, Facebook has partnered with local ISPs — AirJaldi in Uttarakhand, LMES in Rajasthan, Tikona in Gujarat, and soon with Shaildhar in Meghalaya — to bring affordable internet connectivity to these regions.

The pricing will be controlled by Facebook's partners, and customers will be able to purchase daily, weekly, or monthly data packs. Based on the latest figures from India's telecom regulator, just 33% of India's population — or 390 million people — are connected to the internet, so there's a lot of scope for initiatives like Express Wi-Fi. The emergence of Jio has changed the perception of mobile data consumption in the country, and Facebook is now counting on Express Wi-Fi to bring millions of customers online for the first time.

Alongside India, Facebook is also testing Express Wi-Fi in four other countries — Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Indonesia.