Facebook And Eutelsat Partner To Deliver Internet To Africa From Space

As part of Internet.org, its initiative to bring billions of people around the world online, Facebook will partner with Eutelsat to launch a new satellite that will provide Internet access to parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Internet.org’s network infrastructure already includes drones and a laser communication system that are now undergoing lab tests, but this is its first project to provide Internet access from space, said Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg in a post.

The Facebook-Eutelsat satellite, called AMOS-6, is currently under construction and scheduled to launch in 2016. After it begins orbiting, the satellite will be able to connect “millions of people” in west, east, and south Africa. Zuckerberg wrote that Internet.org will work with local partners to help users get online using AMOS-6’s coverage, but it’s unclear if he meant carriers. TechCrunch has emailed Facebook for clarification.The company begin working directly with local carriers in October 2014 to fix their networks and provide speedier connections.

As our Ingrid Lunden pointed out at the time, however, the move wasn’t made purely out of altruism. Forming alliances with carriers in countries like Indonesia, where Facebook is already popular, gives it more leverage when trying to convince them to implement services like zero-rating, which has landed Facebook in hot water with net neutrality advocates.

While Internet.org (which includes other tech companies like Opera, Samsung, and Qualcomm) has a noble-sounding mission (its site says “making the Internet available to every person on earth is a goal too large and too important for any one company, group or government to solve alone”), it has been criticized for its strategies, which include partnering with local carriers to provide access to services—including Facebook—for free.

In April, several Indian publishing companies, including Times Group, withdrew from the project, because they said it gives Internet.org and its partners too much power over what sites and content users can access. In response, Zuckerberg wrote that Internet.org fully supports net neutrality and that it is “not in conflict with working to get more people connected.”

The agreement between Eutelsat and Facebook means each company will share capacity on AMOS-6 (which is being built by Spacecom) with each deploying their own Internet services. In a press release, Eutelsat, which operates communication satellites around the world, said that its partnership with Facebook will grow its broadband business in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Paris-based company is establishing a new London-based company to focus on its African business.

Facebook and Eutelstat’s announcement comes the same day that Endaga, which provides Internet access in rural areas with cellular network boxes, disclosed that its chief executive officer and three co-founders have been hired by Facebook. While Endaga’s team said they will help Facebook bring more people online, they will work with its engineering team and not specifically on Internet.org.