Despite the ubiquitous nature of our relationship with the internet today, on a global scale more of us do not have access rather than do. The International Telecommunications Union estimates that around 60% of the global population does not have access to the internet. The issues that this brings up is clear and obvious- primarily that it re-enforces the global power structures in place that keep developing nations developing and industrialised nations on top.
Corporations have seen this gap of 60/40 as that of a commercial opportunity to rectify, and by doing so gaining a huge market with clearly financial benefits. Ever the Entrepreneur, Mark Zuckerberg under the guise of Facebook’s ethos to ‘connect people’, has invested in quite a novel idea that has the potential to massively rectify the global imbalance- creating solar powered flying internet providers that delivers connectivity and access to the (developing) world.
The planes themselves have a wingspan similar to that of a Boeing 737, yet weighs roughly a third of what a Prius does. The mechanics of how it will work have been summarised well by Ariha Setavlad:
Facebook will have lasers on the ground that can locate the dome-shaped optical head, located on the bottom of the plane, in the air — basically shooting a laser at a dime-sized target that is more than 10 miles away. The plane will first hone in on the general location of the laser on the ground, proceeding to target it further and lock onto the location so that it can start beaming down the internet. (2015)
The project is a lofty one, yet not without entirely altruistic foundations. The Aquila drone is part of Facebook’s ambitious plans to bring the web to regions in the world where Internet connectivity is bad or non-existent (Vanian 2016). The internet access that the drones provide do not allow users to connect the entire internet-instead, only just Facebook. Clearly this is a problematic way to develop infrastructure.
So the issues surrounding inequality and barriers to internet access are self evident, the real question becomes- what interventions can be done to remedy the matter? Obviously the untapped global market of people currently without access is an opportunity for corporations such as Facebook, but simply having a Facebook account is hardly the solution to the global problem.
(World map of 24-hour relative average utilization of IPv4 addresses observed using ICMP ping requests as part of the Internet Census of 2012 (Carna Botnet), June – October 2012.)
2015, “Individuals using the Internet 2005 to 2014”, Key ICT indicators for developed and developing countries and the world (totals and penetration rates), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), viewed 10th August.
Fish, A 2015, ‘Who really benefits from the ‘internet space race’?’, The Conversation, June 18, viewed on 10th August, < https://theconversation.com/who-really-benefits-from-the-internet-space-race-43425>
Parikh, J 2015, ‘New Milestones in Connectivity Lab’s Aircraft and Laser Programs’, Newsroom, July 30, viewed on 10th August, < http://newsroom.fb.com/news/2015/07/new-milestones-in-connectivity-labs-aircraft-and-laser-programs/>
Setalvad, A 2015, ‘Facebook’s solar-powered internet plane looks like a stealth bomber’, The Verge, July 30, viewed on 10th August, < http://www.theverge.com/2015/7/30/9074925/facebook-aquila-solar-internet-plane>
Vanian, J 2016, ‘Facebook’s Solar-Powered Drone Just Hit a Big Milestone’, Fortune.com, p. 1.