Facebook Concept Drone. (Facebook)
Facebook Concept Drone. (Facebook)

Here in the heart of hyperconnected Silicon Valley it is hard for many of us to fathom that two out of three people around the globe still do not have access to the Internet.

But that’s the case, a fact not lost on leaders at companies like Facebook and Google. The latest evidence is Facebook’s announcement yesterday that it is setting up a new lab geared to exploring how the company can build what one of its engineers calls “an Internet in the sky.”

That also underscores the reason Facebook yesterday acquired a British company called Ascenta. Its founders helped to create the Zephyr, a solar-powered drone. The idea is to create a network of new types of satellites, drones and other unmanned aircraft that can beam Internet access down to the two-thirds of the world’s population that currently remain unconnected.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been talking about the social network giant’s global strategy a lot over recent months:

“Now the focus for us is actually kind of retooling — you’re going to see us retooling the company in a lot of ways — to go take on a lot of harder problems that fulfill this mission,” Zuckerberg said at a tech conference. “So, for example, connecting the next 5 billion people. It’s going to be really hard because a lot of them don’t have Internet access.”

Zuckerberg has also been putting a lot of money where his mouth is.

The acquisition of WhatsApp last month in a deal that could end up costing as much as $19 billion gives Facebook control over a fast-growing texting service that is widely used overseas, as well as by people in the U.S. with family and friends overseas.

The Ascenta acquisition is the latest move in Zuckerberg’s ongoing strategy.


David Weir

David Weir is KQED's senior editor for digital news.  He previously worked at Rolling Stone, Salon, Wired Digital, Excite@Home, Mother Jones, and as a co-founder and executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Over the past 40 years, he and his teams have won dozens of awards, including a National Magazine Award, an IRE Award and a Webby. He has authored or co-authored four books, including (with Mark Schapiro) Circle of Poison.

He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, and has taught journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford and San Francisco State.

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