In recent times, Google has sought to improve internet connectivity in our country by deploying Helium balloons at a height of 20 km above the earth’s surface which will improve connectivity in areas which are currently not supported by fibre networks or telephone lines. This innovative idea, termed Project Loon has already been tested in New Zealand and Google is trying hard to push it in places like Rural India where connectivity is still low.
The reasons for pushing greater connectivity in places like Asia and Africa is understandable. It allows Google to gain first mover advantage in markets still untouched by the Internet and it also allows Google to make more money from marketing and ads , in the long run. At the same time, we need to look at the benefits of extending internet connectivity without building the infrastructure and the knowledge to use it.
Currently Asia and Africa are well connected by mobile networks. There is wide spread use of mobile networks both as a communication medium as well as a facilitator for financial, health and educational services. These are cost effective tools which provide easy access and require limited training and infrastructure.
What we need to focus on is on two aspects:
a) How do we create applications and systems which require less bandwidth and power while maximising the communication sent ? This is important because access to high speed internet through Project Loon does not solve the problems currently faced by the people in rural India or places with low connectivity. Those problems require a systematic approach for resolving it completely
b) How do we create systems which will build on these networks and create a structure where in folks can use these systems and applications to build businesses and create more money? This is important because we need to build these systems to create money rather than force them to spend money . Entrepreneurs build businesses which employ locals, creates more business for others and also helps improve the standard of living of the society.
The objective of Google, though well meant, doesnt solve the current problems or give us an idea of what happens if 5 years down the line, Google decides to shut down this project on the lines of Google Reader and many others. Ideally we need to look at a long term solution independent of a company which has a conflict of interest in providing the systems that it claims will be beneficial to the masses. Instead of spending money on sending folks to the moon, maybe ISRO and the DRDO should work on these projects first.