Alphabet and Facebook's Stratospheric Internet Plans Get Tangled in High-Altitude Red Tape

MIT Technology Review 

High above the annoyances of weather and commercial air traffic, the stratosphere could be a great place from which to beam down Internet connectivity to places with poor communications infrastructure. Alphabet and Facebook are both working on drones to operate 18 kilometers or more above Earth, and this year Alphabet will start using balloons at that altitude to serve mobile subscribers in Indonesia. But even the stratosphere, which at the equator starts at around 20 kilometers but varies by latitude and season, is within reach of Earth's regulators. To work at large scale, Alphabet and Facebook's schemes will need significant changes to national and international rules. "This is all somewhat uncharted territory," says Yael Maguire, engineering director at Facebook's connectivity lab, which is working on a drone called Aquila that has the wingspan of an airliner (see "Meet Facebook's Stratospheric Internet Drone").