Why I Am More Excited About Google’s Project Loon Than Project Wing

Google announced some of the specs behind its secret project to develop drone-delivery services on Thursday. Project Wing, as we all know now, has been two years in the making and recently was tested in Australia, delivering candy and other sundry items to farmers in Queensland.

To be sure, it is an exciting announcement: it lends additional credence to the idea introduced by Amazon earlier this year that drones can remake distribution and delivery as we know it, not just for products bought online but in a whole range of scenarios such as having life-saving medications or supplies delivered to hard-to-reach areas.

(Also, the timing of the big reveal by Google was fun to watch, wasn’t it? It came just days after Amazon snatched away Twitch Interactive from Google, announcing its agreement to acquire the real-time gaming video platform for gamers for approximately $970 million in cash. Google reportedly had been very close to acquiring it.)

Project Loon

The Google initiative that is really intriguing, however, is Project Loon, announced by the search engine giant last year.

Project Loon’s goal, Google says, is to deliver Internet access to people in rural and remote areas, fill in coverage gaps (emphasis mine and to be explained in a moment) and bring people back online after natural disasters via a network of balloons that travel some 20 kilometers above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere.

Google launched Project Loon in July 2013 in a pilot in New Zealand. It has since expanded testing in California and Nevada, which gives one the idea – the hope? – that this service could also launch in the U.S. even though it is clear that Google launched it with the idea of delivering Internet access to developing nations.

So why would it be useful in the U.S.? Because our rural communities remain surprisingly unconnected. More infuriating, as a new report by The Center for Public Integrity shows, cable providers are using their heft to keep states from expanding public Internet service to reach these constituents.

The report tells of a recent attempt by Janice Bowling, Republican state senator, who wanted the city of Tullahoma to offer high-speed Internet service to areas beyond the city limits. A state law, however, does not permit cities to provide Internet service beyond the boundaries where they provide electrical service. She introduced a bill in February that could change that.

This is what unfolded, according to the Center for Public Integrity:

The state’s three largest telecommunications companies — ATT, Charter, and Comcast Corp. — tried to convince Republican leaders to relegate the measure to so-called “summer study,” a black hole that effectively kills a bill. Bowling, described as “feisty” by her constituents, initially beat back the effort and thought she’d get a vote.

That’s when Joelle Phillips, president of ATT’s Tennessee operations, leaned toward her across the table in a conference room next to the House caucus leader’s office and said tersely, “Well, I’d hate for this to end up in litigation,” Bowling recalls.

The threat surprised Bowling, and apparently ATT’s ominous warning reached her colleagues as well. Days later, support in the Tennessee House for Bowling’s bill dissolved. ATT had won.


It is not just a problem of a complete lack of Internet access, although that is bad enough. Most U.S. residents have little competition when it comes to ISPs and Internet service—sometimes one provider is all that is available in their area. This makes for poor customer service and little incentive for the cable companies to improve their infrastructure and services.

Consider Kansas City, Kansas, the first city to get Google Fiber in 2011. At the beginning of this month both Comcast and Time Warner Cable announced they would increase Internet speeds for customers in the area, at no additional cost. They still won’t, or can’t, match Google Fiber’s 1 gigabit per second, but their upgrades are better than the status quo.

Google is expanding Fiber to a number of other cities, beyond the chosen – and very lucky – few under its pilot. Still, it does not seem to be a solution that can be rolled out nationwide.

The Many Possibilities

Article source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikamorphy/2014/08/30/why-i-am-more-excited-about-googles-project-loon-than-project-wing/

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