Facebook plans to enter into partnership with the French based satellite provider Eutelsat S.A. to provide free internet access to Sub-Saharan Africa from space. The initiative is part of Internet.org’s plan to bring together technology leaders, nonprofits, and local communities to make the internet affordable for two thirds of the world that doesn’t have internet access.
Internet.org is a Facebook led initiative that includes six companies – Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, and Qualcomm – and aims to deliver data to people worldwide, and expand internet access in under-served communities.
Initiative participants share resources, tools, and best practices to find solutions in three main areas that include affordability, efficiency, and business models. The network infrastructure of Internet.org already includes a laser communication system and drones, but this is the first time that the agency spearheaded by Facebook has launched a project to provide internet access from space.
The partnership agreement with Eutelsat includes construction of a satellite called AMOS-6 that will be completed in 2016. After the satellite begins orbiting Earth, it will allow millions of people on the East, West, and South Africa to access the net.
Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of Facebook, commented that Internet.org will coordinate with local partners to expand coverage of the AMOS-6 satellite. He stated that Internet.org had begun working with local carriers last year in October to ramp up their networks to provide speedier connections.
In a press conference, Eutelsat commented that its partnership with Facebook will help expand its broadband services in Sub-Saharan Africa. The announcement of partnership between Facebook and Eutelsat comes on the same day as Endaga that offers Internet access in rural areas in Africa with cellular network boxes. They stated that its CEO and three other important personnel associated with the company have been hired by the social media company. Although Endaga’s team has stated that it will work with Facebook to grant internet access to more people, it will work with its own engineering team and not on any specific Internet.org project.
The aim of Internet.org, which includes well known companies such as Samsung, Ericson, and Nokia, to grant free internet access to millions of people all over the world seems altruistic; it is not without some hidden motive.
Some say that forming alliances with local partners will give more leverage to the partner companies in convincing the public to implement their services. In other words, it is in a way a brand image strategy used to gain more support from the public and penetrate the partner company’s products and services among the masses.
In April this year, a number of Indian companies including Times Group withdrew their support for the project claiming that it gives Internet.org partner companies more power over which sites can be accessed by the public.
Whatever the criticisms hurled against the agency, the recent move in launching satellite based internet access for African region is certainly commendable. Educational institutions and universities in Africa will certainly benefit the most from having free access to the internet.
“Over the last year Facebook has been exploring ways to use aircraft and satellites to beam internet access down into communities from the sky. To connect people living in remote regions, traditional connectivity infrastructure is often difficult and inefficient, so we need to invent new technologies,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page.