While net neutrality is dead stateside, CNN reports that Google is planning to help get Africa connected to free Wi-Fi as an expansion of its Google Station Initiative, starting in Nigeria. The Initiative is already live in five countries worldwide, and plans to connect millions of users in Nigeria via 200 hotspots across five cities in one year. The company announced this in its Google for Nigeria event on Thursday.
The project will not be done through Project Loon, but via a collaboration with Nigerian fiber optic telecoms service provider 21st Century to roll out Wi-Fi spots at public places such as colleges, malls, markets and bus stations. Google is not paying the provider directly, but the two will share ad revenue from usage of Google Station. This marks quite a PR boost for a company that needs it, seeing as Google was recently fined $5 billion by the EU for unfairly pushing its apps on smartphone users.
This project is a major part of the larger Next Billion Users plan to get products ready for the next billion Internet users. This means a larger investment in developing areas like Nigeria, as well as Brazil and India. “The next billion users are already changing the internet in three key ways: a mobile-only mindset, an instinct for ubiquitous computing, and a demand for localized content,” said. Caesar Sengupta, the project lead. India, Mexico, Thailand, and Indonesia were the four previous countries to have Google Station service.
Before spreading to the rest of Africa, Google says it needs to find service providers and venue owners that can act as appropriate partners. Monetization opportunities are key to sweetening the pot so they get involved. “We are offering new solutions to improve and expand access in Nigeria and across Africa; these launches demonstrate our commitment to Africa through products built to help people in Africa to make the most of the Internet,” said Google Nigeria Country Director, Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor.
Nigerian tech developer and senior consultant, Gbolahan Alli, thinks that part of the reason why Google is interested in Nigeria and Africa, in general, is because its business model is contingent on Internet accessibility. “Africa is largely an untapped market so it makes sense for them to try to get the next set of billion users by investing in the infrastructure themselves,” he tells CNN. He adds that first-time users and those who can’t afford internet costs stand to gain the most.