Facebook has reached a deal to have free internet beamed to some of the most remote parts of Africa via satellite.
The social network has agreed a partnership with Eutelsat, a French satellite internet operator, to transmit internet connections to offline parts of sub-Saharan Africa from next year.
Through Facebook’s initiative, the company offers access to a number of services including weather, news, health and Facebook itself, for free. However, most connections at present come through traditional fixed and mobile telecoms networks, which provide spotty coverage especially in sparsely-populated areas.
Starting in the second half of 2016, Facebook and Eutelsat will use capacity on AMOS-6, a satellite from Israeli company Spacecom that is due to launch by the end of this year, to beam internet connections directly to smartphones in parts of West, East and Southern Africa.
It will serve the most populous areas of sub-Saharan Africa, with 14 countries in total receiving the service.
It comes following reports that Facebook had abandoned plans to build its own satellite, which would have cost up to $1 billion (£660 million), earlier this year.
“Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa,” said Chris Daniels, the head of.
“We are looking forward to partnering with Eutelsat on this project and investigating new ways to use satellites to connect people in the most remote areas of the world more efficiently.”
Facebook’sinitiative has come under fire, with critics saying it favours Facebook over rival services and violates the principles of “net neutrality” by providing some services for free.
“It is our belief that Facebook is improperly defining net neutrality in public statements and building a walled garden in which the world’s poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services,” a consortium of advocacy groups wrote in May.
Last week, “Free Basics by Facebook”, a move it said would better distinguish the project itself from the service itself.rebranded its free offering as
Eutelsat, which provides satellite coverage to much of Europe and Russia, said it would set up a new office in London to lead its African operations, which will be led by former Tiscali boss Laurent Grimaldi.
Michel de Rosen, its chief executive, said: “Eutelsat’s strong track record in operating High Throughput Satellite systems will ensure that we can deliver accessible and robust Internet solutions that get more users online and part of the Information Society.”
Facebook is also experimenting with drones to beam internet to remote locations, and is starting to test the technology.