Facebook set to beam free internet through satellite to Africans
For years, Facebook has talked about beaming Internet services from space. Now, that sci-fi goal could become a reality.
Facebook announced on Monday that it had joined with Eutelsat, a French satellite company, to provide a selection of free Internet services across sub-Saharan Africa using a satellite that would start orbiting the globe in the second half of next year.
The announcement is part of Mark Zuckerberg’s long-held ambitions to connect the world’s poorest people to the Internet, primarily through a Facebook-led smartphone application that would provide free access to a limited number of online services.
That plan, known as Internet.org, has come under criticism worldwide, particularly in India and Indonesia, after consumer groups and some telecom operators complained that Facebook held too much control over what content people could access through the application.
Despite the criticism, Facebook has continued to introduce its offering, which is available in almost 20 countries and has provided the first glimpse of the Internet for tens of millions of new online users.
The company also announced late last month that it would open the Internet.org online platform to outside developers in response to some of the criticisms of how Facebook operated the free services.
As part of the company’s push, Facebook has agreed with Eutelsat to lease satellite capacity from Spacecom, an Israeli satellite operator, whose satellite will enter orbit in 2016.
Facebook said it would use that capacity to provide Internet access to 14 African countries, including Nigeria, Tanzania and the Ivory Coast, as part of the Internet.org initiative.
“Facebook’s mission is to connect the world,” Chris Daniels, vice president of Internet.org, said in a statement. “We believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa.”