NEW YORK- Achieving the goal of getting the Internet to rural Africa is part of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s global aid mission. During an address at the United Nations in September 2015, Zuckerberg suggested connectivity could play a vital role in reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Two years prior, Facebook launched Internet.org with the goal of connecting people around the world who are beyond the reach of existing telecommunication grids.
As a broader part of its Internet.org initiative, Facebook has embarked on a campaign to increase access to the Internet across large swaths of the African continent via use of a satellite. The organization is working together with French satellite fleet operator, Eutelsat (ETCMY).
Eutelsat and Facebook are leasing a geo-stationary satellite called Amos-6 from an Israeli Technology company known as Spacecom. The two companies have paid $95 million for a five-year lease of the satellite’s broadband capacity. Facebook hopes to bring free Internet access to remote users in 14 countries in West, East and Southern Africa.
Amos-6 is optimized for community and direct to user connectivity using affordable, off-the-shelf materials. The satellite will be launched in the first half of 2016 and is expected to start operating in the second half of the year.
In the recent past, Internet penetration has grown tremendously in Africa. Reports by Internet World Stats indicate that Internet usage in sub-Saharan Africa grew by 7,146.7 percent between 2000 and 2015. This was the highest growth rate among the different world regions. The proliferation of mobile telephony across the continent has also provided a means to increase broadband penetration.
Despite the massive gains in spreading the use of the Internet across Africa, the continent still has the lowest penetration rate of just 27 percent according to Internet World Stats. The U.N. Broadband commission has also reported that eight of the ten countries with the lowest Internet availability in the world can be found in sub-Saharan Africa.
The prohibitive price of accessing the Internet is also another deterrent in spreading the use of Internet. A report by the Alliance for Affordable Internet indicates that more than two billion people in developing and emerging countries are “priced out” of accessing the web.
For users in rural Africa, fiber-optic cables are still not a viable means through which people can access the internet. Cables tend to be targeted in dense urban areas first in order to recoup the investment. Thus, it takes a long time for the cables to be rolled out to inaccessible rural areas of the continent.
Facebook views satellites as one of the technologies that could enable affordable and greater broadband access to rural populations. Chris Daniels, the vice president of Internet.org affirms that satellites are set to play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa.