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First Commercial Mobile Internet/telecoms System Powered by Balloons to Launch in Africa

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World Mobile is launching its unique hybrid mobile network supported by low altitude platform balloons in Zanzibar, as it plans to roll-out its innovative service providing reliable mobile internet to more people at lower cost throughout the African continent.

World Mobile’s balloons will be the first to officially launch in Africa for commercial use, providing a more cost-effective way to provide digital connection to people compared to rolling out legacy internet infrastructure. The remotely controlled aerostat balloons are powered by solar panels, inflated by helium and tethered to the ground. Once airborne, they act as floating cellular base stations transmitting radio signals to ground stations and personal devices.

The project – the first since a successful $40 million raise – will deliver coverage and access to the digital economy for over 1m million people in Zanzibar by end of 2023.

It is the first step in World Mobile’s mission to help bring nearly four billion people online before 2030 in line with the UN and World Bank’s SDGs.

Data from the United Nations* shows almost half the world’s population, 3.7 billion people, the majority of them women, and most in developing countries, are still offline.

Beyond Zanzibar, World Mobile is in discussions with government officials in Tanzania and Kenya, as well as other territories underserviced by traditional mobile operators.

It plans to have 20 mesh sites – local Wi-Fi nodes – rolled out by January 2022 and 120 sites during the first six months of 2022 including the first aerostat balloon launch.

The roll out will cover approximately 75% of Unguja Island and provide access to the wider digital economy including communications, e-commerce, finance, healthcare, and education to the islands’ 896K people.

Micky Watkins, CEO of World Mobile said: “We want to help create a world where everyone can access affordable connectivity, a world where economic freedom is a truth and a world where people are able to jump on the opportunities that internet creates. Zanzibar will become the world’s first smart region powered by World Mobile, connecting businesses, schools and society as a whole.”

“Mobile internet services are becoming quite popular in Zanzibar, like everywhere else around the globe. These services bring online access to information and communication to the masses through their mobile phones, helping bridge the existing rural and urban digital gap. More crucially, however, these services are singularly responsible for promoting financial inclusion by allowing the banked and underbanked in Zanzibar to participate fully in the emerging digital economy. While these services have become indispensable, the high price of communication is a major entry barrier for the poor majority. World Mobile’s service launch of affordable internet service in Zanzibar will be a game changer allowing the vast majority of Zanzibaris to fully participate in the digital revolution.”

added Said Seif Said, Director General of Zanzibar’s E-Government Agency.

World Mobile already has agreements in place with the Zanzibarian government to provide connectivity for 300 schools, and a four-step plan is in place to unlock Zanzibar’s Blue Economy, across marine industries.

The World Mobile approach is more sustainable, in environmental, social and governance terms. Environmental impacts are mitigated using solar-powered nodes, second-life batteries, and energy-efficient technology. World Mobile creates a positive societal impact through the application its circular economy model – a “sharing economy” where locals share in the ownership and rewards of the network. Governance is maintained by the secure underlying blockchain technology, which means that user data privacy is guaranteed and not commercially applied as it is by other mobile operators.

 

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Visa and Mastercard Face Setback as Judge Indicates Likely Rejection of $30 Billion Deal

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Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. are facing a potential setback as a federal judge in Brooklyn indicated she is likely to reject their $30 billion settlement with retailers.

The deal, aimed at capping credit-card swipe fees, has been a focal point of contention between the card giants and merchants for years.

Judge Margo Brodie of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York expressed skepticism about the settlement during a hearing on Thursday.

According to court records, Judge Brodie suggested she might not approve the agreement, stating she would issue a written decision in the coming days.

Retailers have long campaigned to reduce their share of the costs associated with accepting card payments, known as interchange fees.

These fees, which are partially passed on to banks that issue the cards, including major institutions like JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc., have been a burden for many merchants.

Announced in March and pending court approval, the settlement was designed to allow merchants to charge consumers extra for transactions involving Visa or Mastercard credit cards.

The agreement also aimed to introduce pricing tactics to steer consumers towards lower-cost cards.

“The court’s comments strongly suggest that she won’t accept the settlement,” noted Justin Teresi, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “While Judge Brodie doesn’t seem convinced that larger retailers should be allowed to opt out from the settlement, provisions like changes to digital wallet acceptance rules and some state bans on surcharges likely present real adequacy issues.”

Both Visa and Mastercard expressed disappointment over the developments. A Mastercard representative stated, “We believe the settlement presented a fair resolution of this long-standing dispute, most notably by giving business owners more flexibility in how they manage their card acceptance activities. We will pursue our options to ensure a proper resolution of this matter.”

Visa’s spokesperson echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that “continued engagement between industry and the merchants is the best way forward.”

Swipe fees have become a substantial financial issue for retailers, totaling more than $160 billion last year, according to the Merchants Payments Coalition. Reactions to the settlement were mixed when it was announced, with some retail coalitions pledging a thorough review and others quickly opposing it.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, representing large merchants such as Target Corp. and Home Depot Inc., described the settlement as a “mere drop in the bucket” and urged careful review to assess if it adequately addresses the harm inflicted on retailers.

Doug Kantor, general counsel for the National Association of Convenience Stores, praised the judge’s remarks, stating, “We’re gratified to see that the court recognized how bad this settlement was.”

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Norwegian Watchdog Slams Meta for Cumbersome Opt-Out Process in AI Training Plans

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Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is facing a new legal challenge in Norway over its plans to utilize user images and posts to train artificial intelligence (AI) models.

The Norwegian Consumer Council has lodged a complaint, criticizing Meta’s cumbersome and deceptive opt-out process, which it argues breaches stringent EU data protection regulations.

The Council’s statement on Thursday highlighted that Meta’s method for allowing users to opt out of data collection for AI training is overly complicated and intentionally confusing.

“The process to opt-out breaches strict EU data protection rules and has been made deliberately cumbersome by using deceptive design patterns and vague wording,” the Council said.

This isn’t Meta’s first run-in with European regulators regarding data privacy. The tech giant has previously faced multiple complaints for allegedly failing to obtain proper consent from users before collecting their data to target advertisements.

Also, the European Union’s top court has warned Meta about safeguarding public information on users’ sexual orientation from being used for personalized advertising.

“We are urging the Data Protection Authority to assess the legality of Meta’s practices and to ensure that the company is operating in compliance with the law,” stated Inger Lise Blyverket, head of the Norwegian Consumer Council.

The complaint was prepared by the European Center for Digital Rights and will be submitted to the Norwegian Data Protection Authority, as well as other European data protection authorities.

Due to Meta’s EU base in Dublin, the Irish Data Protection Commission will serve as the lead authority in this matter.

The outcome of this complaint could have significant implications for how Meta, and other tech companies, handle user data within the EU.

Meta’s use of user data for training AI has raised significant privacy concerns. Critics argue that without clear and straightforward consent mechanisms, users are often unaware of how their data is being used.

This latest complaint underscores the ongoing tension between big tech companies and European regulators striving to enforce robust privacy standards.

The Norwegian Consumer Council’s action reflects a growing impatience with tech giants’ data practices, emphasizing the need for transparency and user control.

As AI technologies continue to advance, ensuring ethical and lawful data usage remains a critical challenge for both companies and regulators.

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Ethio Telecom Sale to Foreign Bidders Halted; Local Investors to Get Priority

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Ethiopia has decided to halt the sale of its state-owned telecommunications operator, Ethio Telecom, to foreign investors.

Instead, the government will prioritize domestic retail investors before listing the company on the nation’s upcoming securities exchange.

Originally, the Ethiopian government planned to sell 45% of Ethio Telecom to foreign investors. This approach was abandoned in November after Orange SA, a major contender, withdrew from the bidding process.

Emirates Telecommunications Group Co. was also rumored to have considered a bid but did not proceed.

“There were bidders, but each one of them has left the process at one point,” said Abdurehman Eid, CEO of Ethiopian Investment Holdings, which is overseeing the sale along with the finance ministry. “At the end, we felt it’s probably better to halt the process.”

Eid explained that foreign interest did not meet Ethiopia’s expectations. “The priority now is to expedite the sale of 10% to retail investors, who are showing a huge appetite,” he noted during an interview at a sovereign wealth fund conference in Mauritius.

The focus on foreign investors will resume after Ethio Telecom is listed on the Ethiopian Securities Exchange (ESX), set to commence operations in October.

Ethio Telecom, the largest telecommunications operator in Africa’s second most-populous country, had a monopoly for decades. By January, the company boasted 74.6 million subscribers and recorded a profit of 11 billion birr ($191.6 million) for the first half of the fiscal year.

The shift in strategy underscores Ethiopia’s intention to leverage domestic investment capacity. The decision to prioritize local investors aligns with broader economic goals, aiming to stimulate local participation in major economic sectors.

This move is part of a larger plan to list five other state-owned companies on the ESX. According to Eid, proceeds from these divestitures will be utilized to reduce public debt.

Over the years, enterprises controlled by the government have accumulated substantial debt, leading to financial struggles.

The Liability Asset Management Corp., established three years ago, currently manages close to 780 billion birr in debt.

By redirecting the sale of Ethio Telecom shares to local investors, Ethiopia is fostering a more inclusive investment environment and setting a precedent for future listings.

The new strategy is expected to enhance domestic capital markets and provide more opportunities for Ethiopian citizens to invest in the country’s economic future.

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