For most of 2015, Mark Zuckerberg (the CEO of Facebook) has made it known that he wishes to facilitate access to the Internet through a large scope project. This free Internet project would grant access to communities with no access to global networks, such as sub-Saharan African communities. While the CEO of Facebook has attempted to make his project seem purely empathic and well-intentioned, it hasn’t stopped critics from condemning him for the shortcomings of the service he plans to provide.

The developing situation

This year has heard much about providing Internet access to poor and developing communities. Elon Musk, CEO of the SpaceX aerospace manufacturing company, has detailed plans to develop thousands of small satellites and launch them worldwide. While the free Internet project is further along, the service provider ( has been denounced for limitations in its system.

Zuckerberg has received many criticisms for the shortcomings of the Internet service he plans to provide., while providing free Internet access, will only grant Internet access to specific websites. This has been explained as a financial shortcoming. By limiting access to data efficient websites money can be saved while simultaneously providing free connectivity to the world. Because of the recent developments regarding net neutrality, (an ideology that, implemented in its most extreme form, would limit internet access only to websites that make deals with certain ISP’s) many have noted the potential for exploiting these communities by limiting the content and information they can obtain.

Critics have also noted the technology they’re using is not as modern as it could be. Rather than adopting a plan similar to Musk’s, Zuckerberg is using a more traditional geostationary orbit satellite called AMOS-6 (currently in development by Spacecom). The limitations of this satellite are well noted, as they typically suffer from high latency, and might provide inadequate service to a community on a partially global scale. What should be noted, though, is that the current infrastructure for geostationary satellites is more developed, as the technology has been used in the past. This means that resource monitor tools for SysAdmins, compatible software, and hardware infrastructure will already exist rather than need to be invented.

What are the implications?

It’s hard to blame individuals for trying to read into Mark Zuckerberg’s ulterior motives for developing this satellite. Scrutiny should be expected when the limitations raise questions about the integrity of the free Internet project. However, we already know that SpaceX is showing recent developments to provide substantial internet service. It’s difficult to imagine that even if Facebook became a sub-Saharan network tyrant in Africa, their reign would last long.

If SpaceX provides access that is dramatically better, Facebook won’t let its investment become completely invalidated. Thousands of satellites could provide access to even the most isolated and barren of communities, and reduce latency issues. Zuckerberg has made claims that, despite the traditional build of the satellite, new technology is being developed for AMOS-6. These could improve the capacity for shortcomings that prevent strong signal strengths and connection latency.

Regardless of ulterior motives, and even if every criticism is correct, there are boundaries coming up that prevent the worst case scenarios from happening. People will keep a close eye on Facebook in the second half of 2016, when their project is expected to launch, and ensure that sub-Saharan communities remain positively serviced.

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  • Bernard Gui

    “Critics have also noted the technology they’re using is not as modern as it could be. Rather than adopting a plan similar to Musk’s, Zuckerberg is using a more traditional geostationary orbit satellite called AMOS-6 (currently in development by Spacecom).”

    Those so-called Megaconstellations of up to thousands of high-throughput satellites in low-Earth orbit like OneWeb, LeoSat and SpaceX are planning are really great ventures but they are all in their early stages of development. They are facing countless technical challenges such as interference avoidance, regulatory barriers and it will cost billions of dollars to launch all these satellites. It will take at least 4-5 years before any of them becomes operational. And even if such a constellation is being launched it will have to be seen if service provision is affordable for remote communities in the developing world. Today the special tracking antennae required to adjust to low-Earth orbit satellites’ permanent movement cost tens of thousands of dollars and all those Megaconstellations’ business case fully depends on companies like Kymeta and Phasor to manufacture so-called phased-array antennae at low cost to enable consumer-level pricing.

    In contrast Amos-6 will be launched in mid-2016 and immediately provide 18Gbps of througput to 14 countries accessible from ground terminals sold at less than $500. Facebook and Eutelsat have agreed to pay $95 million to lease the full 18Gbps for 5 years.
    So it is totally pointless to compare an immediately available proven technology provided at reasonable costs with some speculaive hightech concept which is full of risks and half a decade away from becoming reality.

    • Martin Winlow

      To the sort of communities involved, $500 might as well be $5m.