Internet For All!!!

In another one of Mark Zuckerberg’s advances toward world dominance, Facebook is currently working on developing drones to “beam internet to people from the sky.” Although this news broke a while back, I’m just learning of more details about it and it continues to intrigue me. In August of 2013, Facebook teamed up with 6 mobile phone companies to launch Internet.org. The purpose of this initiative is to provide affordable Internet connection to people across the globe. In March of this year, they created the Connectivity Lab, which focuses on using drones to provide this Internet access.

WHAT

The drones are expected to be roughly the size of a 747 but weigh significantly less. Flying at altitudes of about 60,000-90,000 feet, they are intended to cruise above weather to enable longer and smoother flights. Facebook hopes to keep these aircrafts flying for months to even years at a time while sustaining themselves with solar power.

Early concept for how the drones will look.

Early concept for how the drones will look.

WHY

In the video below, Zuckerberg describes the changing nature of the global economy from resource-based to knowledge-based. In the former instance, resources were finite and could not be shared. In a knowledge-based environment, however, there’s no limit to how much knowledge and information can be shared, and Zuckerberg claims Internet is the “back bone” of this new type of economy. Many benefits come to the global community as a whole through this type of project, as sharing knowledge and information can be extremely useful with regards to education and healthcare. However, this is certainly an investment for Facebook and the accompanying mobile phone companies, as they are the ones who will be directly profiting from an expansion in the mobile market.

ISSUES

Facebook will certainly face some issues moving forward with this project, as airplane pilots are already voicing concerns regarding drones interfering in their airspace and causing potential safety concerns. This is an issue that needs to be addressed as unmanned aircrafts become more prevalent. Another roadblock currently holding back Facebook’s plan involves current laws requiring one “pilot” on the ground controlling each drone in the sky. With the quantity of drones Zuckerberg hopes to deploy, staffing an employee for each drone would be very costly. To combat this, Facebook hopes to push for a change in legislation that allows one person to control up to 100 drones at a time.

Another potential setback comes from Facebook’s goals to use solar power to allow these drones to fly for such long durations. In order to achieve this as well as be able to transmit Wi-Fi signals from such a great altitude, many advances are necessary, as we don’t currently have the technology to support this.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Facebook plans to test out the flying ability of these drones by 2015 and hope to have them beaming Internet access by 2019. With all of the regulatory and technological hurdles they need to overcome to get to that point, there’s reason to be skeptical that they will achieve this in that time frame. Be it by drones or by increased infrastructure on the ground, global Internet access certainly seems to be in the not so distant future. As we ISYS6621 grads go our separate ways and find ourselves in all corners of the earth, there will soon be no excuse to not remain active on the #IS6621 twitter feed. And to avoid ending my final blog with a double negative, I shamelessly insert this final sentence.

Sources

http://www.wired.com/2014/09/facebook-drones-2/

https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10101322049893211

8 comments

  1. Such a cool post, Ryan! I had no idea about these plans and I am so excited about it. I’ve always wondered how we were going to use the tools we have to share the power of the Internet and social media with the entire world. I really enjoyed Zuckerberg’s video because he clearly has thoroughly developed the logistics of this idea. I am often fascinated by the power social media has and often fascinated by how many people in the world are completely unable to reap the benefits that we do of the Internet, many of which he touched upon such as education and a connection to all parts of the world. It is very encouraging to see the limitless potential of social media be put into action to improve the lives of others in third world countries. This ides has the possibility to change so much about the spread of poverty, lack of education, and illness around the world. Thanks for such a great post, and although it going to be extremely difficult and time-consuming, I am looking forward to seeing this plan unravel.

  2. Ryan – Great post! Last year I actually learned about something called “Project Loon”, which (I believe) is Google’s attempt to provide internet for all. So, maybe it will be a Google / Facebook race to the finish!? The main difference between the two that I can tell is that Project Loon would provide internet though huge balloons that would be launched into orbit and would circulate the earth (without getting in the way of planes). They are facing issues of their own, but it’s an interesting idea. Either way, I think “internet for all” is inevitable, the main question is how to get it done!

    If you’re interested in learning more about Project Loon, they also have a cool video on their website below.

    http://www.google.com/loon/

  3. It’s totally surreal to no longer be considering initiatives like these to be “future tech.” While I’m not an aerospace engineer, I will definitely be looking forward to the day when the technology allows this sort of thing to materialize completely.
    It’s interesting to look at the founding members of Internet.org. No Comcast, no TWC. The companies that will likely be putting up with drones stealing their customers. Personally, I just hope that this project can provide consistent, strong internet to all: think of the possibilities if it can.
    But there are threats to be considered as well. What would the security be like? What happens if one of these crashes? Is there a backup plan? How will people hear about this sort of thing in more rural places?
    It’s a really cool post, and I look forward to tracking it on my own radar (pardon the plane pun) as we go forward. Nicely done!

  4. This is a fascinating post Ryan! I am dreaming of the day this becomes a reality and Comcast can no longer gouge me for my spotty wi-fi. I thought it was particularly interesting how Zuck makes the point that ownership of valuable resources can be shared in today’s new economy. I love his optimistic outlook on how the sharing of knowledge of all kinds can improve all of mankind. As the saying goes, A rising tide lifts all boats! I think that vision will be stymied by the huge industry devoted exclusively to defining and protecting intellectual property. Also ,thanks for providing your sources. I am intrigued enough to go do some serious googling on this subject later. In particular Iam super curious to know how Facebook (and maybe Google) is planning on monetizing drone internet service. I’m sure they’ll dream up some new inventive way of making a profit while at the same time providing universal access as fairly as possible. But they’re sure to have a fight from the incumbent providers who have thoroughly monopolized internet access.

  5. Cool article, Ryan. Its a real pain that government regulators are taking so long to release drone standards. There are some really cool ideas, like this one, about ways to improve our world. I think the ways that companies like Google or Wikipedia plan on entering new markets is fascinating. I think the internet.org initiative makes sense in giving everyone a chance to use the internet; this does not support net neutrality though.

  6. Awesome post Ryan. I had no idea any of these initiatives were even in the making, let alone ready to be tested in 2015?! I think that universal Wifi is something that’s definitely coming soon… but there are a lot of risks that come with it. I’m interested to see how they will address security concerns of the drones. I’m excited to see what the future holds for this!

  7. Was it Vala Afshar who predicted universal internet coverage within the next 5 years? I agree with a lot of the comments here. Someday we’ll look back and laugh at the era when we were all dependent on Comcast for our spotty internet, or to providers like Verizon or AT&T for internet coverage on our phones. (I hope) I suppose we’ll be seeing Facebook hiring for positions such as air traffic controller. Ryan, great job with the structure of this blog post as well- I’m a huge fan of the big, bold section headers telling the reader what to expect

  8. Will certainly be interesting to see where Internet.org goes from here. Lots of issues to consider, for sure, but lots of opportunity. We’ve talked a little bit throughout the semester about how the internet can be a liberating, unifying tool (while also potentially being divisive). Would be great to see some of the “tech giants” use their capabilities to do good and help bring knowledge to all parts of the globe. Good post.

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