Under a new initiative dubbed Digital Village, the Indian Government has pledged to supply free Wi-Fi to 1,050 rural villages across the country.
Over the next six months, the government will install tower-mounted Wi-Fi hotspots in remote locations across India, enabling villagers to connect to the service using their cell phones, CNN Money reports.
Digital Village could make the state a key player in a marketplace that has seen domestic Internet providers and international tech companies vie to tap into an unconnected population of more than 900 million Indians.
Last year, India overtook the U.S. as the country with the most Facebook (FB) users in the world. And both the social media giant and Google (GOOGL)—which recently installed free Wi-Fi at more than 100 Indian railway stations—have long had the country’s unconnected population in their crosshairs.
At a town hall meeting with Indian students back in 2015, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “There are a billion people in India who do not have access to the Internet yet and if you care about connecting everyone in the world, you can’t do that if there are so many people who don’t even have access to basic connectivity.”
But Facebook’s subsequent “Free Basics” campaign to provide free limited Internet access to hundreds of millions of people was shot down by Indian tech activists and regulators, arguing that it violated the principles of net neutrality.
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Aruna Sundararajan, an official at the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, told CNN Money that the government’s Digital Village project would “provide basic development services to rural areas using digital technology.”
Similar to Facebook’s proposed plan, these services reportedly include basic Internet access, interactive educational tools and medical services.
At a cost of around $62 million in its initial phase, the project will be tacked onto the government’s ongoing optical fiber cable roll out.