Facebook is trying to spread free Internet access to regions of Africa via satellite.
On Monday, the popular social network announced a deal with French satellite operator Eutelsat Communications, to get more people in Africa online by creating a system employing satellites, Internet gateways and terminals. In reaching out to large areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, which are beyond the range of fixed and mobile networks on the ground, the two companies said they will "pursue their ambition to accelerate data connectivity for the many users deprived of the economic and social benefits of the Internet."
Due to get off the ground in the second half of 2016, the project will use the AMOS-6 geostationary satellite owned and operated by Israel's Spacecom to beam Internet connectivity to more than 14 countries across West, East and Southern Africa. Facebook and Eutelsat will share the capacity, which will use affordable customer equipment to provide Internet access to entire communities and well as directly to individual users.
Users in Africa and other emerging markets typically access the Internet through mobile phones. A report released by the Pew Research Center in April found that around two-thirds or more of people polled in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda owned a cell phone. Ownership was particularly high in South Africa and Nigeria, where around nine out of every 10 people had a mobile phone.
The new project is part of Facebook's ongoing Internet.org initiative. The company's stated goal for Internet.org is to provide free basic Internet services to areas of the world where access would otherwise be unaffordable or unavailable. To emphasize the "free" aspect, Facebook in late September renamed the website that offers the Internet services to Free Basics. Free Basics is currently available in parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. But the project has run into its share of criticism and controversy.
Critics have charged that the service favors Facebook's own offerings over those of other content providers. An open letter aimed at CEO Mark Zuckerberg by a variety of organizations in May said that Internet.org violates the concept of net neutrality by favoring certain content. The group of organizations also expressed concerns about targeted users being unaware of the privacy issues and facing risks due to a lack of strong security.
Zuckerberg has challenged some of criticism and has said that the ultimate goal is to get the two-thirds of the world that's currently offline onto the Internet.
"Facebook's mission is to connect the world and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa," Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org, said in a statement. "We are looking forward to partnering with Eutelsat on this project and investigating new ways to use satellites to connect people in the most remote areas of the world more efficiently."