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The Internet Balloon Project The Government Said Will Help You Work From Home is Shutting Down

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Image courtesy Wired

On the morning of 22 January 2021, Kenyans were this morning treated to the rude shock about Google Loon getting cancelled and completely shut down. Loon was one of the ventures Google’s parent company, Alphabet was undertaking to provide high-speed 4G internet in remote areas of the country.

The project was launched back in 2013 but was really brought to life in 2018 when it graduated to X, got its own CEO and outside funding. Kenya was the first place the company wanted to test the feasibility of the project.

In partnership with Telkom Kenya, Google deployed huge flying balloons in various areas across the Rift Valley and Central Kenya.

The project was approved and announced by President Kenyatta in abid to help Kenyans work from home at height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this was seen as thoughtful, a number of Kenyans felt that the president had “misplaced priorities” and went on to complain about it on social media. All in all, it was widely accepted and had been operating since early last year.

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However, the head of X, Astro Teller, recommended that Alphabet stop funding the project citing lack of “long-term, sustainable business.”

“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity — the last billion users: The communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people,” said Astro Teller in a post from Google Loon.

“While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier. Today, I’m sad to share that Loon will be winding down.”

The pilot service is set to continue running in Kenya till March 1st as Loon works with its partners to ensure operations are wrapped up safely. The company has also committed to a fund of $10 Mn (about KES 1 billion) to support non-profits and businesses focused on connectivity, internet, entrepreneurship and education in Kenya.

Nevertheless, Project Taara is still underway as Alphabet plans to use some of Loon’s technology on this. With Taara, the company will now use light signals on top of high buildings to bring affordable high-speed internet to under-connected communities in Kenya.

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