Google’s much-publicized “free wifi” project at Indian railway stations is taking a distinctly commercial turn.
Google now has paid plans for users who wish to continue using the service beyond the first 30 minutes. Users have reported finding paid plans for Rs. 19 for a day, or Rs. 149 for a week for its services at some stations. Google provides high speed internet for the first 30 minutes, but slows it down unless users buy one of its paid plans.
This is a slight departure from Google’s earlier position on the service. In 2015, when the service had first launched, users could access one hour of free high speed wifi. At some point in 2016, the free duration was cut down to half an hour. Google is now charging users if they wish to continue to use the high-speed service beyond a half hour.
Google has already been monetizing the service from the very outset, even before the paid plans were launched — Google runs ads on the login page of the service, which allow it to make money. But Google clearly feels that it needs to further monetize the service, which now reportedly has five million monthly active users. While the free wifi allows millions of Indians to access high-speed internet from railway stations, it’s a also a treasure trove of data for Google, which can study how ordinary Indians interact with the internet, and track their browsing patterns.
But it’s unclear how popular Google’s paid plans will be, given how data has become cheap and ubiquitous after Reliance Jio’s entry. Jio currently offers 1 GB of data for as little as Rs. 150 a month, which would compare favourably with Google’s plan, which charges Rs. 149 for just a week of data that’s limited only to railway stations. Google’s 24 hour plan, though, could come in handy for long train journeys, where users will be able to connect at several stations for Rs. 19 a day.
What Google’s new pricing plan also shows is that free services, no matter how high-profile, remain free for very long. From one hour of free wifi to 30 minutes with paid add-on plans, Google’s Wifi project is slowly looking to make some cash.