by Garrett Hill, CEO, X2nSat, Inc.
The headlines have been ubiquitous lately: “The New Space Race: One Man’s Mission to Build a Galactic Internet,” “Facebook Is Gobbling Up The World, One Internet Connection at a Time,” and another one! “Elon Musk Confirms Satellite Plan for Global Internet Access.”
Apparently, it’s on someone’s (everyone’s!) agenda to provide Internet access to every single individual on planet Earth. And of course this is of interest to me because these plans largely involve the use of satellite technology.
Dating myself as an ’80s child – although not necessarily a Tears for Fears fan – this reminds me of the Best British Single of 1986, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
Are these industrious CEOs and corporations just helpful philanthropists who want to connect the unconnected? Do they have a compassionate desire to ensure disadvantaged children in remote locations are able to compete in the future job market? Are they driven by the awareness that health and medical care is greatly improved in under-developed countries if they are outfitted with Internet access and communications solutions?
According to all of these articles, that’s part of the motivation. Technology entrepreneur Greg Wyler says he’s working on creating an “elaborate array of low-orbit satellites to bring Internet access to everyone on Earth” and that Internet access is a human right. His satellite-constellation-Internet proposition OneWeb just secured funding from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Qualcomm at an undisclosed sum (probably in the hundreds of millions of dollars is my guess).
It’s just my gut instinct, but I don’t think all of these lofty and publicly announced goals are entirely altruistic. What was it that Watergate informant Deep Throat supposedly said? I think it was “follow the money” or something to that effect. These companies might not be establishing a business model in which everyone has to pay for this global Internet access directly but, believe me, they make a lot of money in other ways when people use the Internet. Of course, my “gut” doesn’t always know what it’s talking about. Especially after a lunch meeting at Roy’s Chicago Dogs in Petaluma, California, which is actually located next to a livestock auction building not too far from our operations center. Hey, we picked this hub location for its wide-open spaces and rural feel.
This “the consumer is the product” concept isn’t new. It’s been the same since the old radio and television models came on the scene. When I was a kid, I had to sit through commercials for Clairol Herbal Essence Shampoo, but I got to watch Happy Days for free. Greg Satell, a contributing writer with Forbes, talks about this in a recent article titled “Old Media Can Still Thrive, But Business Models Need To Adapt,” in which he writes:
“It used to be that the business of publishing content was dominated by two models: free and paid. TV and radio broadcasting, historically, were fully ad supported, while movies relied almost 100% on box office receipts, with some residual revenue on the back end. Newspapers and magazines were hybrids, earning money from copy sales and ads.
As the media market matured, the water muddied a bit. Paid channels like HBO came to the fore and increased TV fragmentation made it easier for films to garner ad revenue. The one constant has been that marketers have been more willing to pay for consumers than consumers have been willing to pay for content, so free models have dominated.”
That’s my bold on the final sentence. I think this is exactly what the global Internet idea is all about: marketers paying for consumers. I’ve already paraphrased the famous saying – “If you aren’t paying for a product, then you ARE the product.” Facebook users are acutely aware of this. Facebook the company is acutely aware of this. Mark Zuckerberg’s global Internet.org project’s tagline is: “The More We Connect, The Better It Gets.” I invite you to be a critical thinker and just ask yourself: It gets better – for whom?
Anyway, I don’t mean to sound cynical by assuming this isn’t all about helping those less fortunate. In fact, I think it’s a good tailwind for us here at X2nSat and for all of us in the telecommunications industry to be in when these big, media announcements help convince the world the importance of access. And I personally believe a connected world is a better world; it’s why I started X2nSat and it’s why I do what I do every day.
I do think it’s relevant to point out a transparency distinction in the anticipated business model of these “Internet for all” plans – which will rely on tracking data, online search habits, and “eyeballs” (Nielsen-rating style) to make money versus what we offer very transparently here at X2nSat in a B2B paradigm.
To be fair, our target market does not typically include individual consumers in developing countries; our technology is designed for multi-site and mission-critical corporate solutions. It’s up-front that we are connecting businesses and providing business continuity solutions in exchange for purchased plans. It’s very clear to both sides of the transaction – to us and to our clients – what is being exchanged. No behind-the-scenes big data trickery, so to speak.
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook addressed a similar concept in his recent public statement addressing the privacy of his customers, noting in a slightly snarky tone that Apple “is not in the business of collecting and selling their information or sharing it without their knowledge or consent.”
Ah, the tangled webs we weave when we’re on the web!
Those are my thoughts for now. I need to get back reading my copy of The Geeks’ Guide to World Domination.