Meta is ending its Express Wi-Fi program designed to provide low-cost internet in developing countries through partnerships with local communities, mobile operators and businesses. Launched in 2016, it wasn't free like Meta-owned Facebook's failed Free Basics program, struck down by Indian courts for violating net neutrality. Instead, it was designed to be inexpensive, starting at around 15 cents for 100MB or $5 for 20GB.
Facebook partnered with satellite companies, ISPs and others in places like India, South Africa and the Philippines. Retailers were able to sell hotspots at reasonable rates decided by them and the operator, rather than Facebook. Meta would benefit, of course, by gaining access to new customers it no doubt hoped would create Facebook accounts. As with Google, most of the company's recent growth has come from developing countries where people are getting online for the first time.
Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that glitches in Meta's free internet services were creating unwanted charges for users in countries like Pakistan. Meta was also reportedly favoring its own content on its free-data Discover service to the detriment of other sites.
Meta said that while it's winding down Express Wi-Fi, it's focusing on other projects around internet access. "While we are concluding our work on this program to focus on developing other projects, we remain committed to working with partners across the telecom ecosystem to deliver better connectivity,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement. It promised to work with Express Wi-Fi partners to "minimize the impact to their businesses while keeping networks running."