Connecting the last two-thirds of the world: Facebook vs. Google

How do we get everyone who isn’t online accessing our technology? This is one of the key problems being discussed by the world’s biggest technology companies. Most solutions currently being proposed are framed as a quest to heroically rescue the last two-thirds of the world from technological obscurity. Facebook and Google are the two tech companies currently striving to get ahead of each other in the race to find the best solution to the problem, and both solutions involve things that float above planes, and even above weather.

Social media giant Facebook is currently rolling out advertisements across YouTube, and other online media platforms, to spread awareness of its initiative, which promises to ‘take connectivity to the next level’. It is named internet.org, an organisation created by technology leaders, non-profits and ‘local communities’. ‘Why aren’t more people connected?‘ asks Facebook (I mean internet.org), detailing a list of reasons which include ‘people aren’t sure what the value of the internet might bring’ (really?), ‘service plans are too expensive’ (yes, that’s true… everywhere) and ‘device costs are too expensive’ (I think we can all agree on that one). Not included are ‘my government turned off access to the internet because we were using it to organise a fair election’, and ‘bombs and civil militia are damaging critical infrastructure’.

Internet.org’s initiative seems to have a vague three-part focus, which ranges from exploring multiple avenues for supportive technological innovations, to creating software designed to run on these platforms in partnership with telecommunications providers worldwide. Technological solutions currently being explored include ‘long endurance planes, satellites and lasers’.  The organisation has also created an app which promises to bring basic services to the lives of the internet-disabled, such as weather information, an online library, and… Facebook.

With participants Ericsson, MediaTek Inc., Opera Software, Samsung, Nokia and QualComm joining Facebook in this endeavour, it will be interesting to see the double-edged sword of belonging and anonymous nastiness generated by having billions more people on the social network. So far, responses have been mixed, and the most problematic response has emerged from India, where Facebook has been accused of jeopardising ‘net neutrality’ by citizens and business alike.

In competition with this network-based solution is Google’s initiative, which will deliver ‘balloon powered internet to everyone’. The basic premise is that Google will send durable solar-powered balloons made from polyethylene plastic into the stratosphere (the same area currently being contemplated by Facebook…uh-oh) and direct them via mapped air-flow patterns to where LTE (standard internet connections offered by telecommunications providers like Vodafone) connections are required, replacing critical infrastructure which may be missing in the area. When the balloons are ready to be retired, the envelope supporting the balloon is slowly, safely lowered back to earth. New footage, released yesterday, indicates that tests have already provided the Lune team with valuable research on what kinds of manufacturing developments are needed to take this program to a global scale. Demonstrating how far ahead of Facebook they are in actually launching their idea into the sky, Google has already partnered with Vodafone New Zealand, and intends to form partnerships in other countries with other telcos.

Both initiatives are still testing their solutions to the ‘other two-thirds’ problem. It is clear that there is a space that needs to be filled in widening the scope of the web. Without a connection like those proposed by Facebook or Google, tech-devices in rural and poverty-affected areas are wirelessly disabled. This is an issue which Facebook has seemingly neglected to address so far, as frequent issues with infrastructure or scope have prevented telcos, in many countries, from reaching those at the fringe of human populations – a reality still experienced by residents of rural Western Australia. It will be exciting to see developments on both projects in the near future. You can follow Facebook’s progress here and Google’s here.



Feature pictures sourced from here and here.