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Chamath Palihapitiya helped Sri Lanka get Google’s Internet balloons

Chamath Palihapitiya helped Sri Lanka get Google’s Internet balloons

July 30, 2015   10:56 am

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The entire island country of Sri Lanka could soon get free Internet beamed down from Google Loon balloons, and it might not have happened without one of the co-owners of the Golden State Warriors.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Google Loon executive Mike Cassidy met Tuesday in Colombo, the capital, to sign a memorandum of understanding to test the experimental Internet balloon technology, which means the talks are in the early stages and are not a final deal to provide nationwide service.

But effusive Sri Lankan officials were quick to celebrate how the historic partnership could help connect the small South Asian country that is still recovering from a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009.

“As a result of the agreement we will sign today with Google, the entire Sri Lankan island – every village from Dondra to Point Pedro – will be covered with affordable high speed internet using Google Loon’s balloon technology, and Sri Lanka is on its way to becoming the very first country in the world to have network connectivity cover the entire country,” said Mangala Samaraweera, the country’s foreign minister and IT chief, according to a transcript of his address.

Another official, Harsha de Silva, posted on Facebook that as a result of the deal, “hopefully in a few months every person and every device on the island will be covered by 3G.” Some Sri Lankans already have 4G service, but in the country of more than 20 million people, there are only 2.8 million mobile Internet connections and 606,000 fixed-line Internet subscribers, according to the AFP.

A government statement said the “initiative would not have been possible without the support of” Palo Alto-based mobile tech startup LotusFlare and its “visionary” chairman Chamath Palihapitiya, who is also a venture capitalist, former Facebook and AOL executive and co-owner of this year’s NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors.

The Canadian-raised Palihapitiya was born in Sri Lanka, but it’s not clear what his role was in the Google Loon talks there. He and LotusFlare were not immediately available for comment.

The Sri Lanka deal could be the first mass-scale application of the floating, high-altitude WiFi routers, which emerged from the secretive Google X research lab in Mountain View in 2013 and have since been tested in the Central Valley and New Zealand.

Google Loon’s maneuvers happen as Facebook’s Internet.org has been expanding its free Internet service to India, just across the waters from Sri Lanka and with a billion more people. While both tech giants have touted the societal benefits of Internet balloons, drones and other technology enabling free and universal access, the ventures also serve their longer-term business goals of building a bigger audience that generates increased advertising revenue.

Source: Silicon Beat

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