Can Mega Corporations Provide Global Internet?

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Internet connectivity can help to enrich public education, alleviate poverty, expand economic growth, and provide a platform for freedom of speech and expression. It’s also become a crucial way for billions of people to stay connected to friends and relations in other countries.

The regions of the world that lack internet connectivity are at a major disadvantage. And while it’s doubtful that their aims are entirely altruistic, some major companies are now working to bring remote communities online. Here’s a look at two such initiatives being spearheaded by major companies.

Google’s Project Loon

Using Raven Aerostar-designed and manufactured Super Pressure Balloons, Google’s Project Loon launched their pilot project over New Zealand on June 15, 2013, and has already overcome significant hurdles. The first several balloons didn’t last in the air very long. Google spent several identifying weaknesses in their design, and determined that a stronger material was needed, and that technicians needed to wear softer socks while building the balloons, lest they scratch or damage them.

Over the course of the past year, Google has launched high-altitude Wi-Fi balloons using specialized antennas to deliver Internet access at 3G speeds. Measuring around 40 feet high and 50 feet wide and able to reach 12 miles in the stratosphere, each Loon balloon carries a computer and is pressurized consistently on a 24 hour basis. The balloons are designed using a specialized lightweight, thin material it is very durable and has dual automatic air vents. According to Google Mission Control, the Loon balloons can remain stationary and are tracked by tracked by GPS signals.

Moreover, a remote pilot at Google Mission Control can find wind currents and can control the balloons’ altitude to effectively guide them around the globe for 100 days at a time. Aside from its launching of balloons, Google has also reportedly purchased a company specializing in solar-powered drones and another firm that makes low-orbit satellites.

In many of the world’s most remote areas, people cannot afford electricity or clean water. For these reasons and more, humanitarian organizations have pushed even harder to bring online access to remote areas to improve the efficiency of relief work. This would make it easier to set up remote health care stations in situations where the nearest doctors or hospitals are hours or days away. This, in turn, would help people living in developing countries have a better public health infrastructure.

Internet access present in the developing world also offers greater potential for creating new online marketplaces for business, as well as increased opportunities for the poor and women to gain income for their families. For example,Kiva.org is a non-profit organization that uses a worldwide network of microfinance institutions over the Internet to people all over the world to alleviate their poverty.

Facebook’s Connectivity Lab

By means of its coalition major tech companies via Internet.org, Facebook’s new Connectivity Lab aims to lower barriers to Internet access using more traditional methods, such as making it cheaper to get Internet on cell phones. This concerted effort has been responsible for getting 3 million more people online. According to Facebook’s president, Mark Zuckerberg, drones launched in the stratosphere can stay in the air for months at a time, bringing Internet connections to suburban areas.

In addition to using high-altitude, long-range lasers and drones, satellites will be tested as a way to beam connections to the people on the ground in more rural as well as tricky geographical spots to help provide quicker long distance connections using invisible infrared laser beams. Facebook also hopes to use solar-powered aircraft flying in the stratosphere to instantly beam access to the World Wide Web.

Since only 33 percent of the world population has Internet access, the biggest benefit of Facebook providing Internet access to rural areas is to add to their already billions of service users. Google serves as the gatekeeper of much of the world’s information, which stands to reach hundreds of millions of more users living in low-income global communities with its advertisements.

As shown in a study conducted in 2011, whenever a nation can utilize twice its broadband speed, its economic output spikes by 0.3 percent. Both Google and Facebook realize that it’s a savvy business investment to provide Internet access. Not only does do their efforts go toward a charitable cause it also maximizes their corporations’ profits long term.