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Future

After The Internet Bubble, Here Comes The Internet Balloon

Google is leading a project in Brazil to use balloons to bring Internet connection to the remote corners of the Amazon.

One of Google's Project Loon balloons
One of Google's Project Loon balloons
Yuri Gonzaga

SAO PAULO — We hear every day about how connected the world has become. But according to an estimate by the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union, some 4.3 billion people still live their lives completely offline. In other words, more than 60% of the world's populations doesn't have Internet access.

As part of an ambitious mission of digital inclusion, Google has announced its Loon project, aiming to take the Internet to the most remote and underprivileged areas using balloons equipped with radio antennas to provide access similar in speed to 3G, according to the search giant.

In the first half of 2014, the initiative will be tested in the Amazon forest. "This project will no doubt contribute significantly to developing access to the Internet in that large area which is difficult to reach with traditional technologies," said Brazilian Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo after a meeting with Google representatives last month.

The government didn't disclose the level of its financial contribution to the project, but said the costs were "reasonable."

The Loon, named after an aquatic bird, has been tested in New Zealand since June, with some 30 balloons launched and 50 local testers responsible for piloting them.

"It sounds a bit like science fiction, but I'm very confident the project will turn into reality," Google engineer Sameera Ponda told news agency Efe. "Taking the Internet to all with balloons is easier and cheaper than doing it with satellites."

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research presented a similar project in mid-November, except it uses balloons that are attached to the ground. According to the organization, this balloon carries radios capable of transmitting data at broadband speed at up to 50 kilometers of distance. That initiative, called Conectar, is backed by Telebrás — Brazil's former telephone operator and now in charge of the country's National Broadband Plan — and the Research and Development Center in Telecommunications (CPqD).

Google has also announced another project, Link, with the goal of establishing fiber-optic networks in Uganda's capital city, Kampala, as only 14.7% of the country's population has access to the Internet, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Facebook is also leading a similar project with Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and Qualcomm. Called Internet.org, it's aimed at connecting the whole planet to the Internet, especially by bringing down costs of mobile connectivity and smartphones. Cisco corporation believes that the number of mobile devices connected to the Internet will exceed the number of people on the planet this year.

The focus on mobile technology accelerates digital inclusion, yet it could prove insufficient for certain uses such as distance learning, according to Alexandre Fernandes Barbosa, one of the coordinators of Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI). "How do we develop a software for companies or for education, for example, for a smartphone? It's not the same as for PCs," he explains.

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Economy

What's Driving The New Migrant Exodus From Cuba

Since Cuba reopened its borders last December after COVID closures, the number of people leaving the island has gone up significantly. Migration has been a constant in Cuban life since the 1950s. But this article in Cuba's independent news outlet El Toque shows just how important migration is to understand the ordeals of everyday life on the island.

March for the 69th anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

Loraine Morales Pino

HAVANA — Some 157,339 Cubans crossed the border into the United States between Oct. 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, according to the U.S. Border Patrol — a figure significantly higher than the one recorded during the 1980 Mariel exodus, when a record 125,000 Cubans arrived in the U.S. over a period of seven months.

Migrating has once again become the only way out of the ordeal that life on the island represents.

Cubans of all ages who make the journey set off towards a promise. They prefer the unknown to the grim certainty that the Cuban regime offers them.

Migration from Cuba has been a constant since the 1950s.

In 1956, the largest number of departures was recorded in the colonial and republican periods, with the arrival of 14,953 Cubans in the United States, the historical destination of migratory flows. Since the January 1959 revolution, that indicator has been exceeded 30 times.

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