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Google Brings Internet Service To Sri Lanka Through, Balloons?


Imagine floating this idea - Internet service provided by balloons.


Well, this spring, if all goes well, Sri Lanka will get it. Google has finished testing a system and they signed a deal with the island nation yesterday.

CORNISH: Thirteen balloons hanging in the stratosphere will bring the World Wide Web to the whole country.

BLOCK: Saman Amarasinghe is a professor at MIT. He's from Sri Lanka, and he says his country has a vibrant telecom market, but...

SAMAN AMARASINGHE: The Internet connectivity penetration is not that high. It's, I think, in about 16 percent range.

CORNISH: He says the Sri Lankan Civil War prevented the spread of Internet access to some areas until it ended in 2009.

AMARASINGHE: One-third of the country was completely not accessible for any infrastructure development.

BLOCK: Add to that the many hills in central Sri Lanka, making it tough to build cell towers.

AMARASINGHE: So having a balloon solution that is high in the sky will have a much easier line of sight access to the balloons. And I think that part of the country can have a much better access to Internet.

CORNISH: And not only will rural students be able to download textbooks, Professor Amarasinghe says fishermen will benefit.

AMARASINGHE: When they go to sea they can find the market value of fish at every different port. Things like that can have an impact on everyday people's lives. And I think having access to Internet, having access high-speed Internet can reaccelerate that.

BLOCK: So for an island like Sri Lanka full of remote towns, balloon-based Internet promises to be cheaper and better for the environment.

CORNISH: In other words, it's got a footprint that's, well, lighter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.