Thursday, 8 October 2015

Facebook – To Boldly Go …

Social network giant Facebook has teamed up with French satellite operator Eutelsat in a bid to boldly go where no social network has gone before. Star Trek connotations aside, the deal is a deadly serious attempt by Facebook to beam - from space - free internet to those parts of sub-Saharan Africa that are still without an internet connection.

The deal, set to kick in sometime during the second half of 2016, will offer access to a variety of services via Facebook’s internet.org initiative, including news, weather, health and, of course, to Facebook itself - all free of charge.

Although large swathes of the African continent do have access to some form of internet connection - be that through mobile or fixed telecom networks - coverage is sketchy at best, and almost non-existent in the more sparsely-populated areas of this vast landmass.

Beamed Internet – More Star Trek?

When the operation does get up and running, the idea is for Facebook and Eutelsat to use capacity from the AMOS-6 satellite. This satellite from Spacecom, an Israeli company, is due in orbit by the end of 2015 and, all going well, will start beaming internet connections straight to the smartphones of Africans located in the east, west and southern portions of the continent.

The idea at the moment is to serve 14 of the most populous countries in sub-Saharan Africa, offering first-time internet to millions of people.

Silicon Valley Space Race Ends Before It Begins:

The news of the Facebook-Eutelsat tie-up follows recent reports that the social network giant has now abandoned its own attempts to build a satellite, which could have potentially cost the company up to one billion dollars. Rivals Google have also recently drawn back from plans to do something similar. 

It’s hard to see how the financials could be keeping such behemoths from their space-trotting 
fantasises, so one could only assume that the logistics of such an operation are beyond even these two.

Although Facebook’s internet.org initiative has come under fire from many quarters, due to a perceived violation of ‘net-neutrality’ principles, head of internet.org Chris Daniels said, “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.”

He continued: “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.”
Grumbles:

In relation to the net-neutrality issues mentioned above, a consortium of advocacy groups recently released a statement which, among other things, mentioned, “It is our belief that Facebook is improperly defining net neutrality in public statements and building a walled garden in which the world's poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services.”

In what looks like a response, internet.org last week rebranded its free offering to ‘Free Basics by Facebook’, a move designed, in its words, to “better distinguish the internet.org project itself from the service itself.”



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