Are big projects up and running again?

Amazon’s plan to launch thousands of internet satellites to connect billions of people around the world represents a serious and underappreciated entrant in the space business, multiple analysts and industry executives told CNBC.

Here is the full story.  And for Facebook and Africa:

The company is in talks to develop an underwater data cable that would encircle the continent, according to people familiar with the plans, an effort aimed at driving down its bandwidth costs and making it easier for the social media giant to sign up more users.

Both developments promise to contribute to the central achievement of our age, namely tying people to information, and to other people, at a hitherto unprecedented scale, mobile devices included of course.


Silicon Valley has certainly, as of late, embraced big, risky expensive projects outside its normal comfort zone. One question would be how much of this is driven by the sub-culture's recent embrace of testosterone supplementation. Bezos and Elon both seem to be major examples here.

Why does one little corner of the US produce so much? What is the rest of the country doing?

wearing red hats, going to trump rallies, mindlessly repeating whatever fox news tells them to say. all because they can't program a computer.

Hey don't forget the rest of us, who spend our time whining about what the Trumpies are doing.

I, for one, am glad no one asks me to be excellent, myself.

It's the observers who are the problem.

That's the ticket.

lol Produce what? I'm in IT and virtually nothing I used today was produced in SV. Well, some of our firewalls were.

You must be the most out of touch person in IT. You don't use a smartphone running Android or IOS? What about your laptop, desktop, or servers that say Intel inside? Didn't check your gmail or Facebook? Didn't make a google search? The firewall you admit is from SV must be next to a lot of routers and switches from SV too. This very website which you leave your comment on is hosted on which is based in San Francisco and its filled with SEO/analytics mostly from SV companies.

'Both developments promise to contribute to the central achievement of our age, namely...' the creation of a global for profit surveillance state?

1.- "If you get everyone access to the internet then you’ve just doubled your total addressable market for e-commerce, cloud, internet and any other business Amazon wants to do".

70 out the 130 million Mexicans access to Internet regularly. On 2017 Amazon had a revenue of 500 million from middle-income Mexico. Compare to the 120 billion sales from the US or 17 billion from Germany on the same year. It seems sales are constrained by the income of customers, not internet access. Now, think about revenue from a low-income country with great internet access.

2.- "The ground stations may be taken care of with the AWS developments but another looming issue is the ground antenna that will receive the signals from the satellites."

Ground antennas are needed to transfer the signal from the satellite to WiFi. So, satellites are just a substitute of optic fiber cables.

On Africa, the submarine cable network is not that bad. It was the low hanging fruit because it's easier to lay down a cable in the sea instead of a war-torn country. Albeit, the terrestrial optic fiber network is not bad and it will grow a lot in the following years.

I remember reading somewhere the mobile internet penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa is ~40% and growing. Below the world average but good considering the challenges. People in Africa seem to be developing their communications infrastructure, do they really need satellite internet?

So, what's going on here? Why Bezos and Musk sell the idea of an offline Africa? Why the vertical integration of e-business and internet provider? Several hypothesis: (i) they don't know what to do with their money, (ii) they need an ego boost, (iii) they DO know there's a growing optic fiber network and they want to compete with it, (iv) they want to compete with the local internet providers with the help of SUBSIDIES because "they're helping the poor".

If you are so much smarter than Bezos and Musk, what's your trillion dollar company?

If that's the premise, we would never be able to discuss any decision by the richest men in the world, ever. Close the internet, turn off the lights before leaving =)

PS. yes-men are useless for innovative companies. Musk might be surrounded by yes-men right now and that may explain Tesla's underperformance.

Bezos is surrounded by yes-men but he's still richer than you.

His ex-wife is also richer than all of us. Not sure what that is upposed to mean in terms of valuing whatever she says higher than maybe 100 people in the world.

@Polk: hahaha, even my dad is richer than me. Am I dumber than my father for not having the same wealth or more? I think I'm even less worth than my mother real estate wealth alone. Is that a reason to never disagree with her?

The only way to follow blindly millionaires (and richer ones) is to never meet one =)

Amazon sometimes has an issue getting customers. I know in Canada, we had awful sales for a while on Amazon, but then Amazon advertised enough or **something** and it started having higher volume.

Mexico may just not find the time savings that useful. Also, Mexico makes it very hard to sell internationally inside Mexico, i.e. no China sellers.

Everybody wants to talk about the benefit of high quality satellite internet to the rural poor, but that's just happy talk to satisfy regulators.

The big target market is everyone living in a regulated cable market in which Comcast is enjoying monopoly profits. Those people have no real alternative today, and they'd jump at an opportunity to be serviced by anyone else.

And, importantly for a market, they're numerous and not poor.

"the central achievement of our age, namely tying people to information"

But is fake news "information"?

I would actually rephrase as follows:

"the central achievement of our age, namely tying people to digital advertising"

With all the talk of tying people together, aren't the reported rates of loneliness up dramatically?

Information seems to often be equated with knowledge. They're not the same thing.

By the statement "tying people to information", Cowen no doubt means information that will facilitate their ability to consume.

When economic development takes hold in the African continent, will the fruits be widely shared or concentrated in a few? I'm not optimistic; indeed, I fear that the fruits will be concentrated to a greater extent than in China (more corruption, ethnic/tribal diversity and less national identity, etc.). Sure, economic development will raise millions out of poverty but the level of inequality will rise too. The world's productive capacity will be greatly enhanced but the world's consumption capacity will not keep pace. Thus, it's not ironic that two companies which prosper from consumption, Amazon (which sells stuff) and Facebook (which sells advertising for stuff), would be leading the way, as they seek ways to squeeze as much consumption out of limited capacity to consume.

"Sure, economic development will raise millions out of poverty but the level of inequality will rise too."


Laying the offshore fiber is the easy part - it’s well understood and been done before. Just takes money. The harder part is deploying and maintaining the last mile, or perhaps last 50 miles, connection. It’s not Marin County.

"Laying the offshore fiber is the easy part "

+1, Indeed, there's already fiber laid around Africa. Presumably, this would just be another cable to add to existing capacity.

"The harder part is deploying and maintaining the last mile, or perhaps last 50 miles, "

This is what makes the satellite network so valuable.

Indeed. The satellites presumably won't use in-space links to transmit all the way to the rest of the world, although they could in principle. Most traffic would bounce up to a satellite, and down to a (relatively) local ISP that would have a robust connection to the fiber network and the rest of the world. But the ISP could be 50 miles away and have no wired connection to the user. Or even a thousand miles away with inter-satellite links.

More hubris from the worst run companies in the world. Yawn. Wake me when one of the FANGs pays a dividend. If they are in your portfolio, don't whine when the inevitable reckoning comes.

"Amazon’s plan in talks...that would ...the plans... promise...." Over the horizon.

Amazon is late to the party. OneWeb has already launched the first of 650 planned satellites and has raised more than $3.4 billion.
SpaceX has received FCC approval to launch up to 12,000 satellites as part of its Starlink satellite communications program and has two test satellites already in orbit.
LeoSat claims to have $1 billion of customer contracts lined up for its system scheduled for launch in 2020.

This way Africa can also become a wasteland of consumer monads - surely one of the great achievements of our time.

I've thought a lot about the the arguments the left makes against the existence of the super-wealthy (ranging from "in a just economy, they should not exist" to "behead the rich"). The most intuitive defense for me is that, even if we interpret Bezos's wealth as 100% subsidized by the government, it's still a positive return on investment -- the consumer welfare generated by Amazon is miles beyond the expectation for $100 billion in government spending.

But I think it's also the case that, as the government loses the ability to effectively conceive of and implement large-scale projects (see a library's worth of writing on cost disease, infrastructure, civic capital, etc.) that the ability to take on Big Projects is another advantage to having the type of superfirm-dominated-by-individual-tech-leader which definitionally creates decabillionaires.

I would prefer Big Projects run by the country and not select unaccountable god-kings, but if the choice is Musk/Bezos/Zuck or "all that energy goes to ambitionless zero-sum fights over the pie," etc.

Africa has so many problems to solve that a broadband internet connection will never help with.

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