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Facebook's internet drone close to taking flight

Ahead of Mobile World Congress, Zuckerberg hypes plan to connect the world using internet drones that communicate with lasers.

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Mark Zuckerberg is moving forward with his plans to connect the world to the internet through Internet.org, his philanthropic organization. One of the keystone projects is an ambitious attempt to spread connectivity to remote and under-serviced regions using giant internet drones. Tests are already underway.

"I'm particularly excited by our progress on Aquila, our solar-powered aircraft that will beam internet access into communities from the sky," Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook yesterday. "We're making good progress on the engineering and for months we've been flying a prototype design of our plane every week.

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Zuck included some pretty sexy project photos to whet the appetite. What you're looking at here is the 10.8 foot-wide center pod of the Aquila, which is 139 feet long when fully assembled.

Zuckerberg recently hit a setback in his larger bid to offer free internet when Facebook's free-but-restricted internet service, Free Basics, was banned by India's national telecoms regulator as a violation of net neutrality.

The issue for critics of Free Basics, which offered users access to some internet content over mobile devices for free, is that subsidizing content incentivizes customers to use certain services that won't eat into mobile data, such as Facebook and select news outlets, which creates an unfair marketplace. Zuckerberg fought hard for the service, taking to the op-ed page of The Times of India to make his case that getting a billion additional people online, even in a restricted way, would be a good thing.

He founded Internet.org with the aim of overcoming issues of accessibility and affordability in hopes that one day, everyone will be connected. As he wrote on Facebook, his focus at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week will be working with Internet.org partners to extend various approaches to help more people connect.

"Connecting the world is one of the fundamental challenges of our time. Through Internet.org we've already connected more than 19 million people in more than three dozen countries. With Aquila and other technologies like satellites and laser communications systems we have a chance to connect many more."