Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 15th 2015 Contents The UN recently declared inter-
net access a basic human right.
Unfortunately, this right can-
not be exercised by everyone.
Some 57 per cent of the world s
population, more than four
billion people, are either not connected or
cannot use the Internet regularly. That figure
falls well short of the UN s target of having
60 per cent of the world online by 2020. For-
tunately, some very enterprising companies
with very deep pockets are investing heavily
in getting the world s disconnected onto the
Internet growth challenges
Overcoming the many challenges that keep
the disconnected offline is no mean feat. High
infrastructure costs; low commercial incentives;
as well as cultural, language and regulatory
hurdles make providing internet access to
remote and rural areas complicated. The chal-
lenge is particularly acute in the developing
Only about 34 per cent of people are con-
nected in households within developing coun-
tries. Women in poorer countries and language
minorities are among those most likely to
remain offline, according to the UN Broadband
Commission s State of Broadband 2015 Report.
In just the past few years, however, corporate
giants and individual entrepreneurs have
invested big money to change this. Most of
these efforts have focused on providing access
to remote and under-developed locations
across the world where traditional Internet
expansion strategies are cost prohibitive.
Broadening broadband access
Facebook, Google are leading the race to get
everyone on the planet connected to the Inter-
net. To be clear, by "everyone," these companies
mean exactly that--- everyone. The firms are
amongst a small but purposeful group of com-
panies pursuing ambitious schemes for pro-
viding Internet access to the world s discon-
nected and inadequately connected users.
1. Facebook connectivity lab
The social networking giant Facebook, set
up a dedicated Connectivity Lab to identify
new technologies to connect the world. This
initiative led to the development of a custom
built drone named Aquila (Latin for eagle),
likely the first fruit of its recent acquisition of
high-altitude drone company, Ascenta. The
drone is designed to provide broadband services
to remote parts of the planet.
Facebook also recently announced a part-
nership with the French satellite company,
Eutelsat, to launch a satellite to provide Internet
from Earth s orbit. According to a Facebook s
CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the satellite will be
launched in 2016, and will initially "provide
internet coverage to large parts of Sub-Saharan
The company s plans go beyond Internet
coverage, though. Facebook s Internet.org ini-
tiative aims to provide access to free internet
content in communities that have internet
access, but where users can t afford it.
2. Alphabet project loon
Alphabet, the company formerly known as
Google, is also tackling the Internet coverage
challenge. Their strategy involves the use of
balloons and drones. Alphabet s Project Loon,
is working with high altitude balloons designed
to be launched as a fleet and float around
60,000 feet, in what is called Near Earth Orbit,
well above commercial air traffic.
The basic idea is for the helium-filled bal-
loons to beam Internet connectivity to some
communities across the world that are not
Successful trials have already been conducted
in Brazil and Chile in Latin America as well
as in Australia and New Zealand. A commercial
implementation of Project Loon is expected
as early as 2016.
Through Titan Aerospace, which Google
acquired in 2014, Alphabet also hopes to pro-
vide Internet access using solar powered drones
flying in the stratosphere (around the same
altitude at Google Loon balloons).
With OneWeb, uber-entrepreneur Richard
Branson hopes to create the world s largest
ever satellite constellation. Branson s Virgin
Galactic wants to launch a fleet of 648
microsatellites to bring high-speed Internet
and phone service "to make high-speed Inter-
net and telephony available to billions of people
who don t currently have access."
4. Space X
Another big-thinking billionaire, Elon
Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX fame, also has his
sights set on cracking the global connectivity
challenge. Musk also has plans to provide
broadband internet to the world through low
Earlier this year Space X petitioned the gov-
ernment to launch up to eight prototype satel-
lites into space. The company has plans to
begin testing out its low orbit Internet con-
nectivity technology in 2016. Eventually,
SpaceX says, it plan to launch 4,000 satellites.
To keep costs down, the satellites will be tiny,
cheap and disposable.
Motivated to succeed
Launching satellites to provide telecommu-
nications service is expensive and risky busi-
ness. And success is by no means assured.
The Motorola-backed project Iridium aspired
to do the same for cell phones before it ended
up in bankruptcy in 1999. But fortune favours
the brave, and the cash-rich.
The motivation in control of the next several
billion of the planet s Internet users. If these
companies succeed with their ambitious plans,
they would radically transform the potential
and reach of the Internet.
The motive is, however, not entirely altru-
istic. For commercial investors, ensuring that
the planet s next few billion people get online
is also about securing, market share and market
It is no coincidence that amongst firms
investing more heavily in getting the uncon-
nected online, are the companies that have
profited the most from the global spread of
the Internet. There is nothing inherently wrong
with this approach.
The Internet plays too crucial a role in devel-
opment of modern society and economy to
leave its future growth to chance.
In seeking their own interests, these com-
panies have to work collaboratively with gov-
ernments, regulators, civil society groups and
This multi-stakeholder approach creates
the fertile conditions that have come to define
the Internet s remarkable success.
The research and investments of today s
pioneers have the potential to take that success
to an even higher level, by accelerating inno-
vations, improving access, lowering costs and
positively impacting billions of lives across
Bevil Wooding is an internet strategist
with Packet Clearing House (www.pch.net)
an international research and capacity build-
ing non-profit organisation. He is also Chief
Knowledge Office at Congress WBN
(www.congresswbn.org), responsible for its
technology operations and outreach initiaives.
Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding
OCTOBER 15 • 2015 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG19
New initiatives seek to bring
the Internet to the world
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