Yellowstone, like many of the world's less inhabited corners, has plenty to offer its visitors--but high-speed internet access is not usually one of perks. That might be about to change.
Project Loon, the initiative launched by Google parent company Alphabet's X subsidiary to beam internet to the whole world, was recently spotted flying over an area of the national park in Montana. The balloon cruised along at 60,000 feet, some 600 miles from Project Loon's test site in remote Winnemucca, Nevada. Airline writer Jason Rabinowitz first spotted the balloon on a flight radar map--which anyone can do by searching for call letters "HBAL"--and revealed it with a tweet.
It's indicative of another step forward for Project Loon, which is trying to use these balloons to deliver internet access to remote and underdeveloped areas. About 4.5 billion people--more than half the world's population--currently lack internet access. Project Loon plans to offer its internet services to cell phone companies, who can then charge customers for access and give Loon a percentage.
If that sounds like an incredibly lucrative venture, that's because it is--and it's why Alphabet isn't alone in trying to capitalize on it. Fellow Silicon Valley tech giant Facebook is currently undertaking a similar project: The company wants to fly large drones capable of sending internet connectivity back to earth.
And like its rival, Facebook has made strides recently as well. In July, the company successfully ran the first test flight of Aquila, a drone with a wingspan longer than that of a 737.
Besides the revenue Google and Facebook can earn by selling their internet services, the companies have plenty to gain just from bringing the Web to the fingertips of as many people as possible. More people on the internet means more people using Google and Facebook--and more advertising opportunities for both.
SpaceX, meanwhile, has also taken steps to get involved in this sphere. Last year, it asked the FCC for permission to create a constellation of satellites that could send internet back to earth. Though the company has remained quiet about its work, a filing this summer revealed that the venture was at a "critical stage." And SpaceX has posted more than 60 job openings for its Seattle and Redmond, Washington, offices where much of the satellite work is reported to be taking place, according to Geekwire.
All of these projects are probably at least a few years from completion.
Alphabet, meanwhile, is betting big with Project Loon as it looks for a contingency plan in case its search business--which, through advertising, accounts for nearly 90 percent of the company's total revenue--should ever become obsolete. When it first announced Loon in 2014, Google (as it was called at the time) said it would invest $1 billion into the project.
As a whole, X, Alphabet's moonshot branch, lost more than $1.6 billion through the first half of 2016.