Facebook today announced a partnership with French satellite operator Eutelsat to provide broadband internet to sub-Saharan Africa. Under a multiyear agreement with satellite communications firm Spacecom, the two companies will use the AMOS-6 satellite to beam internet connections across "large parts" of sub-Saharan Africa. The satellite is expected to come online during the second half of 2016.
The announcement marks the latest development in Facebook's Internet.org initiative, which aims to bring free web services to underserved countries. The organization has begun testing solar-powered drones as a way of delivering internet connections to developing countries, and recently opened up its platform to more mobile operators. Since launching in Africa in 2013, the service is now available in 19 countries, though it has come under criticism amid concerns that it may hinder net neutrality. Others have alleged that Facebook's motives may be driven more by profit than philanthropy.
Facebook returns to satellites
Today's announcement also follows a recent UN report which found that 57 percent of the world's population still lack reliable internet connectivity — including 90 percent of those living in the world's poorest countries. Broadband penetration has grown dramatically across Africa in recent years, though access remains spotty and expensive for many.
In a statement, Eutelsat said its satellite partnership with Facebook would allow users to connect to the web through "affordable, off-the-shelf" hardware, adding that there is "pent-up demand" for broadband connections across sub-Saharan Africa. Both Facebook and Google are exploring new ways to deliver internet connections to the "next billion" offline users, though each has reportedly pulled back from plans to develop their own satellites.
"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."
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