FACEBOOK is planning to launch a satellite to provide internet access to remote parts of Africa, the social network’s founder has said.
Mark Zuckerberg announced the satellite was under construction and would be ready for launch into space in 2016 as part of the company’s free mobile data scheme Internet.org.
Mr Zuckerberg said: “Connectivity changes lives and communities. We’re going to keep working to connect the entire world - even if that means looking beyond our planet.”
The project marks the next step in the Internet.org initiative, with the company earlier this year testing solar-powered drones which could beam internet signals from the skies above the UK.
But Internet.org, which aims to get the entire planet online, has come under fire from digital rights groups in countries including Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.
They said the project threatened freedom of expression and privacy because only selected services could take advantage of it.
Facebook is developing the satellite with French firm Eutelsat and Mr Zuckerberg said he hoped to “connect millions of people” in hard-to-reach areas.
He said: “I’m excited to announce our first project to deliver internet from space.
“Over the last year Facebook has been exploring ways to use aircraft and satellites to beam internet access down into communities from the sky. To connect people living in remote regions, traditional connectivity infrastructure is often difficult and inefficient, so we need to invent new technologies.
“The AMOS-6 satellite is under construction now and will launch in 2016 into a geostationary orbit that will cover large parts of West, East and Southern Africa. We’re going to work with local partners across these regions to help communities begin accessing internet services provided through satellite.”
Eutelsat said users would be able to access the internet from the satellite on “affordable, off-the-shelf customer equipment” from the second half of next year.
The Internet.org scheme was created alongside partnering mobile carriers in parts of Africa, Asia and South America to bring some internet access to parts of the world where it was restricted, with selected services - including Wikipedia, BBC News, Facebook and some local news providers - made available via the scheme’s app without any data charge applying.
But in an open letter sent in May, 67 online rights’ groups said the project threatened freedom of expression, privacy and the principle of net neutrality - the idea that all data is treated equally online - because only selected services could take advantage of it.