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Facebook to beam free internet to Africa via satellite

Matt Brian, @m4tt
10.05.15
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Facebook has made it clear that satellites will play a big role in delivering its free internet initiative to people across the globe, but talk of a rollout has been pretty limited. That changed today after the company announced it's teamed up with French communications specialist Eutelsat to beam connectivity to more than 14 countries in the most densely populated parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Facebook and Eutelsat will work with Israeli company Spacecom to utilize the "entire broadband payload" on the AMOS-6 satellite, which is slated to launch later this year. Interestingly, Elon Musk's SpaceX, which applied to the FCC to launch its own downlink broadband satellites in June, will escort AMOS-6 to orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The Internet.org project has come under fire in recent months over neutrality and transparency, especially in India. Although it's now reaching hundreds of millions of people, the company been accused of pushing its services and controlling what they can access. To help distinguish its app from the wider Internet.org initiative, Facebook rebranded the app as "Free Basics by Facebook" and added 60 new services from developers who had signed up to the project.

Facebook hopes to begin transmissions by the second half of 2016, connecting those who are out of reach of fixed and mobile networks. However, that's not all it has planned. It's also building Aquila, a 140-foot solar-powered unmanned plane that can deliver internet from 60,000 to 90,000 feet. The company will test the UAV later this year but there's no word on when (or if) it will be fully deployed.

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