A United Nations report released today helps explain why Facebook and Google are resorting to drones and balloons to bring people in the developing world online.
The report notes that 57 percent of the global population still will not have internet access through the end of 2015. While that's better than last year's tally, when 60 percent of the global population was without internet access, the growth in internet access is slowing as telecommunications companies struggle to expand into "rural or remote areas" in an economically feasible way, the report notes.
That's where balloons, drones, and lasers come in.
Both Facebook and Google have a couple projects on the books designed to bring people in the developing world online, with Facebook outfitting drones with lasers to beam internet access down to remote areas. Google, meanwhile, is using high-altitude balloons to spread internet access to similarly remote areas.
Both companies are also making strides in lowering the cost of internet access, with Facebook teaming with local internet providers in developing countries to offer free access to select websites (including Facebook, of course) via its Internet.org platform. Google, meanwhile, is working with manufacturers to bring inexpensive smartphones to developing markets with its Android One program. Google wants these smartphones to hit the $30 price point, which is cheap enough to get them into the hands of "the next billion users."
Bringing internet access to rural users is also a top priority of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who said this morning that "access to broadband is access to opportunity."