Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Flying ‘Internet Drones’ Over Africa Is a Dumb Fantasy

Iain Marlow, for the Globe and Mail:

Let me be even more clear: The Internet already exists in Africa! With few exceptions, no matter where I went in Ghana, I got wireless service – and was even able to tether my laptop to my BlackBerry. All of these experiences, as well as quickly signing up for a pre-paid wireless service in nearby Nigeria, make me deeply skeptical about the much-hyped attempts by massive Western corporations to “bring” Internet service to Africans. Google is planning on floating balloons over unconnected parts of the continent. And now Facebook, according to Techcrunch, is looking at buying a drone company called Titan Aerospace to do much the same thing: Toss up solar-powered unmanned flying craft that will beam down Internet to remote areas – like something out of a remake of The Gods Must Be Crazy.

(Marlow clarifies earlier in the article that his use of a BlackBerry put him as an outsider; even in Ghana, there are plenty of Android phones and iPhones in use.)

The efforts of Google and Facebook to bring internet-beaming aircraft to Africa have been greeted with something approaching applause in the tech press, but Marlow points out the significant flaws in their efforts. It’s a cynical article, and that’s even without Marlow raising the profit motivations for spreading internet access to rural Africa. Despite the cynicism, it’s an article that’s on point.