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Thanks to Project Loon, Sri Lanka will soon have universal Internet access

You know Project Loon? Google’s ambitious plan to provide cheap Internet access to underdeveloped parts of the world via a fleet of high altitude balloons? Well after years of testing and refining the technology, the company is finally ready to deploy it for real — and it’s starting with the small island nation of Sri Lanka.

Foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera said officials signed an agreement with Google in the capital city of Colombo to launch the helium-filled, high-tech balloons over the country for the next few months. Google plans to begin releasing the balloons in the coming weeks, and hopes to have everything in place by March 2016 — at which point Sri Lanka will become the first country in the world to have universal Internet coverage.

“The entire Sri Lankan island — every village from (southern) Dondra to (northern) Point Pedro – will be covered with affordable high-speed Internet using Google Loon’s balloon technology,” foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera said in a statement.

So why is Google starting with Sri Lanka? Well, in addition to being relatively small in terms of land area (the entire country is roughly the same size as West Virginia), Sri Lanka is home to over 20 million people — and only a small portion of them have access to the Web. Accoring to AFP, the country currently has about 2.8 million mobile Internet users and 606,000 fixed-line users. That’s a lot of people that Google could bring online.

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Once the company has its balloons up in the stratosphere (twice as high up as commercial airliners fly), local Internet providers will be able to tap into Loon connections to lower their operational costs. In turn, they’re expected to offer cheaper services to residents.

This is just the beginning, too. If Google can pull off Loon in Sri Lanka, it’ll likely begin rolling out the service in other countries with underdeveloped Internet infrastructure. Pretty soon, the World Wide Web will be truly worldwide.