Facebook announced last week its partnership with Eutelsat Communications, one of the world’s leading satellite operators, to provide internet access to remote parts of sub-Saharan Africa using satellites.
“I'm excited to announce our first project to deliver internet from space," Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post on his Facebook page.
The two companies said that their service, scheduled to begin in the second half of 2016, will utilize the Ka-band, to provide greater capacity and direct-to-user internet access via affordable, off-the-shelf equipment. Issues such as how the satellite performs in bad weather or when there is other atmospheric disturbance remain to be resolved.
Highlighting the potential economic and social benefits that their initiative would bring to the sub-Saharan region, Facebook and Eutelsat said using satellites to bring online access to an area with little to no connectivity was a more efficient and cost-effective method than traditional wired lines.
The initiative is the latest effort of Internet.org, which Facebook launched two years ago, to address the physical, economic and social barriers that keep many people in the developing world from getting online. Unlike other Internet.org projects, access to Facebook's satellite internet in Africa may not be free, with neither Facebook nor Eutelsat mentioning the user cost of the new service.
While the project aims to bring cost-effective broadband access to unconnected populations, Facebook is also motivated by advertising dollars — the more eyeballs, the more its ads are worth.
Critics have argued the Internet.org service violates net neutrality and is creating a closed, Facebook-centric version of the internet rather than providing open access for all. But the fact that the initiative will provide internet service to areas where there were none is in itself quite commendable.