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Facebook targeting 14 African countries with satellite internet initiative, says Eutelsat CEO

Eutelsat/EnqueDeCom

The head of French satellite company Eutelsat has told RFI that its partnership with Facebook to improve internet access will target 14 African countries. Eutelsat CEO Michel de Rosen said on Thursday that the initiative will partner with local providers to roll out satellite connectivity making the internet more accessible.

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“In Africa, like anywhere else connectivity is a social value,” de Rosen said during an interview at Eutelsat’s Paris headquarters. “It helps people find jobs, it helps people develop their business, it helps people be more educated and it helps people be part of the international, global economy.”

The initiative was announced by Facebook and Eutelsat on Monday. In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg said he was excited to announce their first project to “deliver internet from space”. The founder of the social network highlighted traditional infrastructure as making it “difficult and inefficient” to connect people living in remote areas.

Explaining how the technology will work, de Rosen said they are building “three earth gateways” to connect with the AMOS-6 satellite operated by Israeli company Spacecom, through which they will lease capacity.

In the target countries they will choose partners to provide the “best go-between us and the final customer” with local providers including “mobile network operators, IT companies or Internet Service Providers”.

Eutelsat expects the system to be operational by the end of 2016, according to de Rosen. It will be made available in 14 countries: Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

The partnership is part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative which aims to improve internet connectivity around the world. Through the agreement, Eutelsat will offer internet access of “better quality, at a better price - better price meaning at a lower price”, said de Rosen.

His company’s rationale behind getting involved with the initiative is the same as the social network, de Rosen said, describing it as “a vision, a mission, but also a business”.

“We’ll finance this, we’ll fund it with our cash flow,” de Rosen said, when queried about his company’s financial commitment. Eutelsat generated revenues of 1.4 billion euros last year, according to their website.

“What strikes me is how eager Africans are to be connected,” de Rosen said, when asked about concerns about net-neutrality linked to Facebook’s Internet.org initiative. “They deserve to be as connected, as integrated in the world economy as Europeans or Americans are.”

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