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Finance & Innovation

Internet access takes flight in Sri Lanka (literally)

Flickr: Shaun Fisher

Balloons aren’t just for birthday parties anymore. In March of 2016, a system of 13 balloons floating over Sri Lanka will provide affordable Internet access to the entire country.

Over 25 years of civil war prevented Sri Lanka from developing an electronic infrastructure in rural parts of the country. The conflict ended in 2009, however the nation’s hilly geography still makes cell tower construction costly and difficult.

Google set out to solve this problem by designing a network of balloons that will connect even the poorest Sri Lankan villages to the web.

At first glance, improving Internet access may seem low on the “to-do” list for fighting poverty, but increased web usage can have many benefits. For example, increased Internet connectivity allows rural Sri Lankan students to download online textbooks (looking at you, Education Month). Web access can also help fisherman, who were previously unable to accurately gauge market prices at different ports.

In the future, this kind of universal connectivity will allow researchers to document Internet search patterns in order to predict and treat outbreaks of disease, or use social media to provide timely extreme weather warnings.

There are currently 4.4 billion people in the world living without the benefits of Internet access. However, if Sri Lanka’s balloon program successfully takes flight, the sky’s the limit on using the web to improve education, health, and economic outcomes throughout the world.