Facebook's secret internet project isn't so secret anymore: according to emails obtained from the Federal Communications Commission, the social network is developing a satellite-based internet called Athena.
The emails reveal that the company hopes to have it launched by early 2019. The new device is designed to "efficiently provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world," according to an FCC filing under the name PointView Tech LLC.
Emails Show Facebook Is Developing Athena Satellite Internet
The documents were acquired by Wired when it issued a Freedom of Information Act request to the FCC. The emails date back to 2016, suggesting Facebook's satellite internet ambitions have been in development for quite some time. They also detail meetings between FCC officials and lawyers from a firm Facebook appears to have hired.
In one exchange, a lawyer requested to meet with people from the Office of Engineering & Technology and the International Bureau Satellite Division to talk about applying for a license to build and operate a "small LEO [low Earth orbit] satellite system with a limited duration mission."
In another more recent exchange, made in late April 2018, the same lawyer asked for another meeting to talk about their client's "small satellite experimental application." The next day, that application was filed with the FCC. The aforementioned PointView company has no direct relationship to Facebook in the said emails, but it constantly gets referred to. The emails, however, contain some evidence that PointView is a subsidiary of Facebook.
The social network has since confirmed that it is, in fact, working on the Athena project. It said there's nothing to share as of this time, but that it believes satellite internet is poised to become an "important enabler of the next generation of broadband infrastructure, making it possible to bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where internet connectivity is lacking or non-existent."
Will The Project Be Completed?
The project sounds ambitious, certainly, but it wouldn't be totally out of Facebook's depth. For one, it has long expressed interest in providing people worldwide easy-to-access internet, especially those who live in areas where quality internet connection is a luxury or downright impossible. The company also spent years developing Aquila, a solar-powered drone designed to beam internet down to Earth. It's since announced that development for the Aquila aircraft has halted.
Hopefully Facebook's satellite project doesn't slip into the same download slope Aquila did. Not only is managing to build a successful satellite infrastructure up there is a challenge in and of itself, but Facebook must also consider whether the people they're aiming to provide this service to even want it.