Facebook may provide free internet access to uncovered areas in Africa to boost productivity and curb poverty.
The world’s largest social network, Facebook, is reportedly engaged in in-depth discussions with British satellite operator, Avanti, over a partnership with the purpose of providing free internet access to most of Africa. A deal is said to be close to being revealed in collaboration with Internet.org, which strives to extend internet access to the two-thirds of global population without it.The initiative appears to be a passionate interest of Chairman and CEO of Facebook Inc, Mark Zuckerberg, who has been pitching the idea to major networks hoping to find multiple partners for the project. Using this year’s Mobile World Congress as an avenue to engage major mobile operators, responses were lukewarm with doubts about the incentive of making network resources available for free.
Such a deal with Avanti would circumnavigate the involvement of major networks, relying instead on Avanti’s satellite HYLAS 2 which presently gives coverage to the Middle East and Africa. Avanti also are in the process of adding two more satellites, the HYLAS 3 (expected to come into service in 2016) and HYLAS 4 ( set to launch in 2017), both meant for Africa. These satellites facilitate internet access through a high frequency radio link before conversion to Wi-Fi signal. The initiative if successful could engender greater productivity in developing economies in Africa. Internet.org anticipates as much as a 25% knock-on effect on global productivity with the potential of lifting 160 million people out of poverty.
Facebook has a long-standing interest in improving conditions in struggling economies through the means of technology and championing the provision of internet access to uncovered regions would be consistent with its founder’s commitment. It may also have a strategic business value for Facebook as opening up new communities to internet access creates a new population of potential Facebookers, with the company still battling flailing user growth figures especially among young adults.