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Facebook Will Use Drones and Lasers to Give the Internet to Everyone

Facebook needs more people to sell Facebook to.
Image: Facebook Screengrab

Last year, Mark Zuckerberg helped create, a consortium of companies that are working on delivering the internet to everyone on Earth. Today, we found out how he plans on doing it: With drones, satellites, lasers, and a team of scientists poached from NASA and some of the top research institutions in the world.

In a Facebook post (where else?) Zuckerberg announced the formation of the “Connectivity Lab” at Facebook:


Today, we're sharing some details of the work Facebook's Connectivity Lab is doing to build drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone. Our goal with is to make affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world … Our team has many of the world's leading experts in aerospace and communications technology, including from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center. Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UK-based company whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They will join our team working on connectivity aircraft.

The way he’s planning on doing this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering earlier this month the company was working on acquiring Titan Aerospace, a drone manufacturer that makes solar-powered aircraft capable of staying in the sky for months at a time. It’s unclear if that deal fell through, but it appears the company might be going another route with Ascenta, and could be working on making its own drones.

In a video explaining how it’s going to work, Facebook’s Yael Maguire says that, for rural areas, Facebook plans on building out an array of low-Earth orbiting satellites that’ll beam the internet down to the planet. For suburban areas, they’ll rely on the drones.

“You think about the traditional model of how we access the Internet, and it starts with a base station. It’s a tower that provides radio signals,” he said. “We look at [those] pieces and we want to challenge all of those assumptions about the way we deliver the Internet.”

Really, the “how” doesn’t matter at this point—it’s the “what” and the “who.” The goal of providing internet access to everyone on Earth is a laudable one, even if an video accompanying the video is a bit hyperbolic (“What happens when the rest of us get [internet] access? It doesn’t get twice as good, it gets like a bazillion times as good,” the narrator says.) But this is a Facebook Connectivity Lab, not an Connectivity Lab. Earlier this week, Facebook said it wanted to be on your face with its acquisition of Oculus. This is just one more move in Zuckerberg’s blitzkrieg to own all things internet, including how we access it.