Google's Project Loon, intended to provide Internet access to underdeveloped countries throughout Africa and other continents, is being criticized by Bill Gates. The co-founder of Microsoft and world philanthropist said Loon would not improve material conditions in those countries.
Under the plan, Google would send balloons -- hence "loon" -- into the stratosphere, 12 miles up, which could cover large areas of land with wireless Internet signals.
"When you're dying of malaria, I suppose you'll look up and see that balloon, and I'm not sure how it'll help you," Gates said. "When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there's no Web site that relieves that."
Gates believes the issues within these countries that are holding them behind the rest of the world are not going to be fixed by giving them access to relatively slow Internet. Instead, there are much larger and more deep-rooted issues that are harder to fix.
What Is Loon?
Under the control of Google X, the company's secretive R&D unit, Project Loon was started in 2011 as a way to provide Internet access to millions of people who currently have no or only isolated pockets of access.
Although the signals would provide speeds similar to 3G Internet in the U.S. and eliminate the need for fiber cables to be spread over the country's landscape, they do require ground stations, which would be spaced 62 miles apart.
Laying cables underground in order to deliver Internet access to countries has never been easy, especially when dealing with countries in Africa or the Middle East that cannot afford it. Loon would offer an easier, sustainable way to provide Internet connectivity .
Since most of the power used by Loon would be generated by solar panels and the balloons fly around based upon the wind, the entire process would be easy to sustain and offer almost continuous Internet access.
In his criticism, Gates specifically brought up malaria, which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has fought for years, as an example of how Loon would not result in a major change in living conditions for residents of underdeveloped countries.
There are others uses for Loon mentioned by Google, such as the ability to provide Internet access during natural disasters, but in terms of its ability to increase happiness or productivity in poor countries, Gates has less hope.
Gates has taken a different approach to helping these nations. Among his many philanthropic goals are ones such as eradicating polio and completely getting rid of malaria. None of these health-related issues, which affect hundreds of millions of people, are going to be directly combated by providing the sick with access to YouTube.
As a whole, Gates told Bloomberg News, he has been disappointed in the charitable work of Google, particularly Google.org. The non-profit work of Google started out strong but has yet to do a whole lot and does not have much direction, Gates said.
Posted: 2013-08-13 @ 1:49pm PT
Perhaps Bill Gates wishes that he would have developed a project like Loon.