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Thoughts on Facebook’s Plans to Beam Internet from Space to Africa

You’ve heard it by now. Facebook plans to beam Internet from space to remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa starting 2016. This is a follow up project to (now Free Basics) which is currently giving people free access to a particular number of websites. You can read something I wrote about it here. faced criticism from groups who argued that controlling the internet and what people can access and calling it free was wrong and would give first time users a wrong impression of what the INTERNET is. Thus it was decided that any sites that meet Facebook’s development criteria would be included in the project.

This new project is a collaboration between Facebook and Eutelsat where a satellite in space, AMOS-6, will be cover West, East and Southern Africa delivering “cheap and affordable” broadband internet. How this will work still remains unclear to me. But Eutelsat says the network will be readily accessible in mid 2016 using “off-the-shelf” products.

How will it work?

I wonder how people will access the network. And these are questions we are yet to get answers to. Will it be through WiFi? Will Facebook team up with Telcos like Safaricom and Airtel? Will it be through special projects like Outernet?

If through WiFi then how will that work? Will we be having hotspots around?

If through collaboration with Telcos, who will be willing to partner with competitors? Because Facebook is now flexing its muscles as a possible ISP. Plus Underwater cables might be a thing of the past in a couple of years. I doubt undersea technology will survive past 2020. I have a dream.

If through special projects like Outernet, will they build the special types of hardware Outernet uses?

It is not far off from starting out. So let’s wait and see. How do you think this will work?


Why this is important for Facebook:

In Africa, internet penetration is still lower than all other parts of the world at about 26%. But in Kenya we enjoy almost 50% penetration. This means that there’s still a large group of individuals in Africa who are yet to access the internet, the next Billion as Facebook puts it. And I think this is the market Facebook is looking to acquire.

Facebook currently enjoys about 53 Million users from Africa. But the African population is about 1.2 Billion. If internet penetration increases and most of the new people access internet through, then Facebook automatically gains more users and companies find new ways to advertise to them (through Facebook).

I could be positive a little and say Facebook really cares for African needs and is only looking to help people but we all know that is not true. No company spends m(b)illions without a plan.

What this means for Africa:

Africa is the focus of the world right now. The more people getting access to the internet, the better for us as a continent in terms of health, education and even innovation.

This is a new Scramble that will see us gain.

But we must remember that all internet access (free or not) must not be controlled by any company, organisation or government.

Final thoughts

When I heard of the plan, I was obviously, like most of you, happy and amazed. I mean living at a time when internet will come from space…

If the program by Facebook will give people free access and the internet won’t be controlled this is very good news.

But I still have a couple of questions. Like

  • Will it be fast internet? How fast?
  • What does this mean for ISPs in Africa? Are they threatened?
  • What of Google’s plans for the same? And what of Google Loons?
  • What is the future of the internet?
  • What is the future of internet access?
  • Are you looking forward to this as much as I am?

I don’t have the answers. Just thoughts.

Think about these questions. Think about what this means to Africans. Let’s have a discussion.

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