Facebook to beam free Internet service to Africa with satellites

Facebook to beam free Internet service to Africa with satellites
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Facebook and satellite company Eutelsat will start beaming Internet service to parts of Africa under a new deal announced Monday.

Both companies will “deploy Internet services designed to relieve pent-up demand for connectivity from the many users in Africa beyond range of fixed and mobile terrestrial networks,” according to a Eutelsat statement. The firm said only that the service would reach “large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The two companies will share satellite capacity, with Eutelsat focusing on premium and professional customers. Facebook’s efforts will be aimed at bringing people online who otherwise could not get access — the mission of its Internet.org arm.

“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,” said Chris Daniels, the vice president of Internet.org, in a statement.

Facebook’s Internet.org efforts have been met with mixed reactions.

Its primary product so far is a package called Free Basics, phone apps that users in the developing world can access without paying their providers for data.

The social networking giant says it only wants to help people who can't afford to do so on their own get access to vital services, such as mobile banking and healthcare.

Critics see something more insidious. They argue Facebook’s primary motive in bringing more of the world online is to create more potential customers for its products. They also suggest that it is a blow to the principle of net neutrality, which says that all traffic on the Internet should be treated the same way, when Facebook’s services are much more accessible for users.

Using satellites to beam Internet into areas of the world not served by wired Internet is something Facebook has been experimenting with through Internet.org, though it has yet to become as prominent a part of its efforts as the basic services. The company also reportedly abandoned a plan this summer to build and run its own satellite.