ON MONDAY a Russian-built rocket will take off from French Guiana to launch four European-built satellites into medium-earth orbit. The $1.2 billion multinational project, financed by Google and others, is the most ambitious effort yet to bring high-speed Internet to Africa. It’s a program with humanitarian inspirations and very commercial aspirations. Clay Mowry, president of Arianespace, which is handling the launch, tells Newsweek flatly, “It is a business at the very base of it.” But when American entrepreneur Greg Wyler first tried to bring broadband to Rwanda back in 2006, it was partly with the hope that better communications could help avert future African genocides. That project foundered for lack of infrastructure and slow satellite uplinks. (Most of sub-Saharan Africa has no access to global fiber-optic networks.) Then Wyler convinced Google to back O3B, which stands for the “other 3 billion” people in the world with poor, or no, links to the Web. Its aim: a whole new network of satellites custom built for African needs. But Google isn’t putting all its eggs in that basket. Fleets of Google blimps reportedly are planned for African skies, to bring wireless to the most remote corners of the continent.
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