India PM seals deals with Google, Microsoft and Qualcomm

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has clinched deals with Google and Microsoft, which will create free Wi-Fi in 500 Indian railway stations and cheap broadband to 500,000 Indian villages. Meanwhile, US chip maker Qualcomm, said it will invest up to $150m in Indian start-up companies.

The deals were struck in the PM’s two day tour of Silicon Valley’s top tech firms, which also included a visit to Facebook’s headquarters. However, Facebook’s effort to provide free access to its services and other apps, through the programme, have met with a backlash, reports the Financial Times. Some Indian media companies walked away from the project this year over concern over net neutrality.

On Saturday night, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella, an Indian-born engineer, announced the broadband plan at a dinner in Mr Modi’s honour.

Google, in tandem with Indian Railways, said it would bring the first stations online within months, with the network expanding to cover 100 of India’s busiest stations before the end of 2016.

“This is an important part of making the Internet both accessible and useful for the more than 300 million Indians already online, and the nearly one billion more who are not,” wrote Indian born Google CEO Sundar Pichai, on his company blog. “This will rank it as the largest public Wi-Fi project in India, and among the largest in the world, by the number of potential users.”

Mr Modi’s visit was the first from an India prime minister in three decades and he was praised by members of San Francisco’s burgeoning Indian tech community.

“For the first time there is a feeling that this is a man who wants to make a change, wants to make a difference and has the integrity to pull it off,” said Amit Shah, an Gujarat-born entrepreneur and partner at tech financier Artiman Ventures. “I do believe that as Modi keeps reducing red tape, there is huge opportunity there for US companies and US start-ups.”

Millions of people across Asia are unable to access the life changing benefits of the internet, according to Dr. Nasser Marafih, a commissioner on the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development. “Mobile broadband can improve people’s lives, communities and countries,” said Marafih.

The International Telecoms Unit’s (ITU’s) 2015 ‘State of Broadband’ report in September found that only two fifths of people in Asia use the internet and a similar percentage have a mobile broadband subscription.

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