China’s largest internet company wants to give free internet to Indians


Chinese giant Alibaba could soon join the growing number of entities that are pushing free internet access in India.

Alibaba, which owns UCWeb, is in talks with telecom operators and Wi-Fi providers in the country to offer free data to Indians, Jack Huang, President of Overseas Business at Alibaba Mobile Business was quoted as saying.

“We are trying to offer lower cost data to users and better connectivity, even free of cost connectivity. Wi-Fi providers and other players can be potentials and we are in talk [sic],” he toldBusiness Insider India.

With the free internet access, Alibaba is aiming to further grow UCWeb’s presence in India. Last month, UCWeb announced plans to invest Rs 2 billion  ($29 million) in the Indian and Indonesian markets over the next two years.

In the recent years, UCWeb has expanded its browser service to serve as a news distributor and content platform. The company said last month it is looking to attract over 30,000 self-publishers, bloggers and influencers to its content platform this year. Alibaba acquired UCWeb in 2014 for a reported sum of more than $1.9 billion.

“India is the most critical overseas market for UCWeb and this investment will help bring in the global mobile internet to an era of ‘GUF’ (Google, UCWeb, and Facebook),” Huang had then said. The news distribution platform reported 100 million monthly active users late last year.

UCWeb is likely to run into regulatory issues when pushing free internet access in India. The Indian government doesn’t allow companies offering free internet connectivity to dictate the content users can access. The local authority banned Facebook’s Free Basics on a similar net neutrality grounds last year.

With over 400 million internet users, two-thirds of India’s population is yet to come online.

With over 400 million internet users India has the world’s second largest internet user base but two-thirds of the country’s population is yet to come online. This makes the country an attractive place for companies that are looking to grow their users count and engagement level.

Silicon Valley giants have also been aggressively offering free internet to more Indians. Google has brought free Wi-Fi at 100 railway stations in India, and plans to push it to another 300 railway stations in next two to three years.

Its global rival Microsoft has also been exploring tapping white space, the unused frequency to beam internet to users. In the recent months, Facebook has been working on Express Wifi, a program for which it has partnered with local ISPs to offer free internet across rural areas.

In the meanwhile, the Indian government also announced last month that it will be bringing free internet to 1,000 villages across the country, and pledged to bring affordable internet access in 150,000 villages.

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