'Marketplace' Report: Internet In Africa Google, Liberty Global and banking giant HSBC are launching a venture aimed at bringing Internet service to three billion people in Africa and other emerging markets. The group, called O3b Networks, plans to buy 16 low-earth orbit satellites to accomplish the mission.
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'Marketplace' Report: Internet In Africa

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'Marketplace' Report: Internet In Africa

'Marketplace' Report: Internet In Africa

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR News, it's Day to Day. A startup telecommunications company is today talking about plans to launch 16 satellites over the Earth's equator. This is going to bring the Internet to remote parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. This startup is made up of some big names. Joining us, John Dimsdale from Marketplace. John, how much is it going to cost to do this?

JOHN DIMSDALE: Well, the best estimates right now are 700 million dollars. Now, that sounds like a lot, but it's a bargain compared to traditional satellites. There's new technology now for cheaper, low-orbiting, smaller satellites that will blanket a big swath of the Earth that, so far, doesn't have cable or fiber hookups to the Internet. Like you say, the coverage is going to include most of South America and Africa, as well as large parts of Asia and the South Pacific, where, so far, fewer than two in 10 people have any access to the Internet. That compares to more than six in 10 in the developed world, and that gap is hurting economic development.

CHADWICK: But - these places don't have the infrastructure for hookup to the Internet, but they do have cell phones, so you can deliver things by cell phone. That's how they're going to get this stuff out there?

DIMSDALE: That's right. The satellites deliver to Internet service providers on the ground, who then distribute it by cell phones. The startup company is called O3b - that stands for the Other 3 Billion people on the planet who don't have access to the Internet. This company announced today that it has raised close to 10 percent of what it needs to put these satellites in orbit. And like you say, there are some high-profile investors, including HSBC Holdings, the big European bank, the U.S. media company, Liberty Global, and Google. Now, Claude Rousseau, who's a telecom analyst for Northern Sky Research, thinks that these investors are making a good financial move.

Mr. CLAUDE ROUSSEAU (Senior Analyst, Satellite Communications, Northern Sky Research): It's a question of how to address the particular market with the right solution at the right time. Anything that addresses the bandwidth requirements for broadband, in my mind - if done, properly, of course - has a shot.

CHADWICK: Well, has a shot, but what does Google get out of expanding into Africa and these other really underdeveloped places?

DIMSDALE: It - well, this has potential big returns. Internet service for the developed world is close to saturation now, but these hard-to-reach, remote areas have the best possibilities for growth, once you get over the hurdle of setting up the infrastructure. And you know, Google's had an active week so far, announcing an advertising partnership with NBC and an effort to put billions of archived newspaper articles on its search engine. But its spreading influence has gotten the attention of the Department of Justice. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the department has hired an antitrust lawyer to look specifically at Google's deal with Yahoo! to coordinate and share their online advertising. Competitors are complaining that that takes up more than 80 percent of the online-search ads in the U.S.

CHADWICK: Thank you, John. John Dimsdale of public radio's daily business show, Marketplace.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: We'll have more in a moment on Day to Day.

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