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Facebook Seeks to Spread Web Via Drones and Satellites

Facebook Inc. is working on projects to deliver the Internet to underserved areas by building drones, satellites and lasers, the company said yesterday.

Facebook acquired Ascenta, a U.K.-based aerospace company, to help with the effort, called Connectivity Lab, the company said in a blog post yesterday. The aircraft will transmit data using infrared laser, Facebook said. The social network paid less than $20 million for Ascenta, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the number is private.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg last year started his initiative for connecting the world on mobile devices. His mission is to expand access to the Internet for the billions of people who have yet to visit the Web. Facebook is also looking for new ways to attract more people to its service, which has more than 1.2 billion users.

“For suburban areas in limited geographical regions, we’ve been working on solar-powered high altitude, long endurance aircraft that can stay aloft for months, be quickly deployed and deliver reliable Internet connections,” the company said on its website. “For lower density areas, low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites can beam Internet access to the ground.”

Vanessa Chan, a spokeswoman for Facebook, declined to comment on the terms of the Ascenta deal.

Google Inc. unveiled plans last year to expand Internet access through what it called “Project Loon.” Google wants to use balloons traveling “on the edge of space” to connect people in rural or remote areas of the world to the Internet.

Other Web companies are testing drones for commercial purposes. In December, Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos said the world’s largest online retailer is working with octocopters to deliver goods over a 10-mile radius from a company fulfillment center, with the aim of using the machines in four to five years.

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