Google, Facebook lobbying together on airborne Internet projects?

Are Google and Facebook in a fierce battle to design high-flying technology to connect every corner of the Earth to the Internet, or are they working together? The answer could be both.

MIT Technology Review reported Tuesday on a collaboration — most likely involving lobbying — between the Google and Facebook teams designing high-altitude balloons and drones that beam Internet access down to Earth.

Asked at MIT’s Solve conference on Monday about why they don’t collaborate on their competing broadband access projects, Yael Maguire, who is leading drone development and similar ventures for Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, said “you shouldn’t presume that we’re not already working together,” according to the Tech Review.

Added Google’s Rich DeVaul, who has been involved with the Project Loon high-altitude Internet balloons since their inception in 2011: “I’m looking forward to collaborative possibilities as well as some friendly competition.”

The two engineers declined to say more, but Tech Review points out that both companies jointly filed documents on the same day in June asking the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to support global regulatory changes that would allow their aircraft — be they balloons or drones — to bring high-speed Internet access to “underserved” communities around the world. Their biggest obstacle in that effort is not each other but the conventional fixed satellite industry, which is also pushing governments to protect its own place in the stratosphere.

Above: Google’s Project Loon balloons would operate at high altitudes. (Illustration courtesy of Google)


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