Despite the seeming ubiquity of all things online these days, the fact is that only about 40 percent of people in the world have access to the internet. Think of all those wasted cat videos and Sam Jackson credit card ads. It's a shame, really.
Several initiatives are already underway to provide universal internet access, as Jules Suzdaltsev explains in today's DNews dispatch.
Online access is relatively easy to come by in the developed world, where existing infrastructures have been leveraged to accommodate mankind's ultimate network. It's not so easy in the rural and remote areas of the planet. For example, Europe has a connection rate of around 75 percent. In Africa, that number is more like 20 percent.
Technology companies abhor a vacuum, and by vacuum we mean potential future market. As such, several big-time operators are working on way to get the whole world wirelessly connected.
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Google's Project Loon has been making headlines for several years now. The plan? To float Wi-Fi enabled helium balloons over remote areas. The solar-powered balloons can stay in the air for a hundred days or more, ideally, and can be herded around by way of stratified winds at different altitudes. At night, the floating Wi-Fi hotspots continue to provide service by tapping into solar-powered batteries charged up during the day .
Facebook is trying out a similar aerial system called Aquila, using glider drones that can circle remote regions for months at a time. During the day, solar powered engines power the drones to higher altitudes. At night, the drones circle and drift until the sun comes up again.
Critics of these programs contend that there's an inherent danger to having a single private entity provide sole internet access to an entire region. Facebook's Aquila program would provide a limited "free basics" service -- weather forecasts, news, job listings -- that would necessarily limit access to Facebook competitors. Google, meanwhile, controls two-thirds of the search engine market. It makes some people nervous to think they're going after two-thirds of the planet's inhabitable real estate, as well.
-- Glenn McDonald
Google: Loon For All: Balloon-Powered Internet For Everyone
The Guardian: Facebook Launches Aquila Solar Powered Drone For Internet Access
BBC: India Blocks Zuckerberg's Free Net App