Facebook is developing a satellite to provide internet access to people in remote parts of Africa as part of its Internet.org initiative.
The satellite, being developed jointly with French satellite communications firm Eutelsat, is scheduled for launch in 2016 and will form the backbone of Facebook’s planned free mobile data scheme.
The firm has previously tested solar-powered drones that could beam an internet signal to the remote areas from the sky.
"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,” Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on the company’s website. “We're going to work with local partners across these regions to help communities begin accessing internet services provided through satellite."
Promising to connect millions of people in hard to reach areas where building terrestrial infrastructure would be too costly, the Internet.org initiative has been criticised by many for threatening net neutrality.
Digital rights groups from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia voiced their concerns regarding the project, which wants to allow some selected services including Facebook, Wikipedia and BBC news to provide their content free of charge via the scheme’s app.
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.