Syllabus subtopic: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-technology, Bio-technology and issues relating to Intellectual Property Rights.
Prelims and Mains focus: about the programme and reasons for its shutdown; about internet penetration in India
News: After five years of providing free internet access to people in developing countries, Google plans to shut down its Station program.
What was the Station programme?
- The initiative saw the search giant offer free public WiFi at 400 railway stations in India and more than 5,000 other places around the world, including in Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam.
- The programme was kick-started in India in 2015 as a partnership between Google, Indian Railways and RailTel to bring fast, free public WiFi to over 400 of the busiest railway stations by mid-2020. However, the company crossed that number by June 2018, following which more locations were added across the country in partnership with telecommunication companies, ISPs and local authorities.
Why is it shutting down the programme?
- Google believes that better data plans and improving mobile connectivity have made it “simpler and cheaper” for users to get online.
- However, users in India will be able to continue using the existing facilities at the over 400 stations via RailTel, Google’s partner in India for the programme. The technology giant said that through the year 2020, it would be working with its partners to transition existing sites so that they could remain useful resources for the community.
- The challenge of varying technical requirements and infrastructure among Google’s partners across countries has also made it difficult for Station to scale and be sustainable, especially for its partners.
- Despite the shutdown, it seems Station had been widely successful. In 2018, Google said Station had 8 million monthly active users in India, with people who were using the service consuming an average of 350MB per session at the time.
Initiatives by other companies
Besides Google, several other tech companies have tried to narrow the digital divide in developing countries, with some finding more success than others. For example, Facebook's Free Basics initiative was banned in India in 2016 over net neutrality concerns.
Internet consumption in India
- India, specifically now has among the cheapest mobile data per GB in the world, with mobile data prices having reduced by 95% in the last 5 years, as per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in 2019. Today, Indian users consume close to 10 GB of data, each month, on average.
- According to a TRAI report, globally there is one WiFi hotspot for every 150 people, and in India, 8 million additional hotspots needed to be installed to achieve the same ratio, creating new market opportunities for infrastructure providers and internet service providers. Currently, India is said to have only 52,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the country.
- Besides the Indian government’s continuous impetus for internet penetration through the Digital India programme, private sector initiatives such as Vodafone’s SuperWi-fi coupled with the entry of Reliance Jio 4G services have drastically brought down the cost of internet subscription. This has been instrumental to the growth of internet users in India.