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Facebook, Eutelsat link up to get more Africans online

Social networking giant Facebook and European satellite operator Eutelsat Communications have announced that they are working together to provide satellite broadband Internet to connectivity-hungry sub-Saharan Africa.

The two firms said on Monday that they had reached a multi-year deal with Israeli satellite communication firm Spacecom to provide Internet coverage to large swathes of sub-Saharan Africa - a region where many people are deprived of the economic and social benefits of the Internet.

As part of their plan, Facebook and Eutelsat will use capacity on Spacecom's satellite AMOS-6, which is planned to be launched by the end of this year.

Eutelsat said in a statement that the project would offer Internet access "using affordable, off-the-shelf" hardware, sharing capacity with Facebook in regions often lacking access to reliable fixed and mobile terrestrial networks.

"Satellite networks are well suited to economically connecting people in low- to medium-density population areas," Eutelsat added.

The capacity will allow Eutelsat to scale up its broadband activity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Connecting the world

Facebook two years ago launched Internet.org, an initiative aimed at improving connectivity in poorly covered regions. It offers access to a number of services such as news, weather and health.

But the initiative has come under increased criticism, with many accusing it of favoring Facebook over its competitors and impinging on the principle of "net neutrality."

Nevertheless, Facebook has unveiled plans to work with local partners across Africa to utilize satellite and terrestrial capacity to deliver services to rural areas.

"Facebook's mission is to connect the world, and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa," Chris Daniels, Internet.org vice president, said in a statement.

"We are looking forward to partnering with Eutelsat on this project," Daniels added.

Eutelsat chairman and CEO Michel de Rosen said: "We are excited by this opportunity to accelerate the deployment of our broadband strategy and to partner with Facebook on a new initiative to provide Internet access services in Africa.

"Eutelsat's strong track record in operating High Throughput Satellite systems will ensure that we can deliver accessible and robust Internet solutions that get more users online and part of the Information Society."

sri/uhe (AFP, Eutelsat)

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