Google’s ‘free WiFi’ at railway stations may not be completely free

Google’s CEO had announced an ambitious plan to offer WiFi services at 400 railway stations across the country. (HT File Photo)

Google’s ambitious plan of providing absolutely free Wi-Fi to millions of railway commuters across 400 stations countrywide seems to have fallen flat.

Only the first hour of internet surfing will be free and after that every user will be charged somewhere between Rs. 25 to Rs. 30 per hour, a media report said on Thursday.

This contradicts the tech giant’s much-publicised announcement by its chief Sundar Pichai barely a month ago.

“The first hour will be free and then we will limit the speeds so as to give fair access to other passengers,” Gulzar Azad, head of Access Programs in India, had said, indicating that users would not be charged for internet usage.

A similar model of WiFi usage is in effect across major airports in the country, where users are allowed 30 minutes to an hour of free internet, followed by a pay wall.

In December, India-born Pichai had accompanied Google’s nine international vice-presidents with the firm explaining in detail the deployment of the scheme, its speeds, coverage area and how it would work for all passengers.

Indian Railways in the last week of September had announced it had laid out more than 45,000 km of optic fiber network across the country and would be partnering with Google to set up a high-speed Wi-Fi network at 400 stations.

“The free Wi-Fi will work on the back of fiber already deployed by RailTel and will provide station wide access instead of closing it down to a particular point,” Marian Croak, vice president, access strategy and emerging markets, had told HT.

She had also said that the “highly reliable and hi-speed” internet will be open and will allow users to do anything which includes watching HD videos seamlessly.

Google had also clarified the speed of the internet will be higher than average internet speeds accessible in the country. The average internet speed in the country was recently revised from 512 Kbps to 2 Mbps after the new government came into power.

But details of the proposed plan still remain hazy. There is no clarity about how a user would recharge and whether RailTel – the telecom wing of the Railways—was planning to partner with another company for the payment gateway?

Can a user recharge for more than one hour at the same time? Does a recharge get carried over to the next station? How does the Wi-Fi identify devices?

HT was awaiting a response from Google over the reports of the Wi-Fi charges.

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