After more than five years in operation, Meta has announced it’s shutting down Express Wi-Fi, a program designed to provide low-cost internet in developing countries through partnerships with local communities, mobile operators and businesses.

The shut down of Express Wi-Fi comes barely a year after Meta partnered with Eutelsat Konnect, a satellite operator, to expand the low-cost internet service in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Zambia, Cameroon, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, South Africa and Uganda.

Notably, in countries like Kenya, Express Wi-Fi has been unavailable since mid-December 2020. The service is currently active in over 30 countries across Africa, Asia and South America. Similar to this announcement, about a year ago, Google shut down project Loon, one of it’s low-cost internet projects active in Kenya. A move that made people question the fate of internet projects in Africa by big corporations.

Launched in 2016, Express Wi-Fi program was designed as an improvement to Meta’s earlier failed Free Basics program. It was designed to be inexpensive, starting at around 15 cents for 100MB or $5 for 20GB. 

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.”

The company first revealed its plans to build a 37,000-kilometer subsea cable, named 2Africa, in May 2020, and it announced an expansion in 2021, which is expected to be completed in 2023 or 2024.  

Meta’s different initiatives are part of its efforts to bridge the internet gap across emerging markets like Africa, where connectivity is lowest across the globe. Currently about 28% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is connected to mobile internet according to the 2021 GSMA mobile economy report. The end of Express Wi-Fi program signals a change in Meta’s approach to delivering low-cost internet across Africa.

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