Silicon Valley startup LotusFlare wants to bring the Internet to everyone -- seriously. The company is working with partners like Google's Project Loon and a variety of wireless carriers to expand rural Internet coverage and lower data charges through customizable plans and apps.
Former Facebook engineer Sam Gadodia and his partner Terry Guo, also a former engineer with the social media site, announced that the company has raised $6 million in Series A funding from yet another former Facebook employee, Chamath Palihapitiya's Social + Capital. This is in addition to $4 million in seed funding the company raised last year.
With substantial new funding under its belt, LotusFlare is beginning to address a global issue: More than 4.8 billion people are currently unable to access mobile broadband, meaning over half the world's population could benefit from Internet expansion. For now, LotusFlare's primary focus is in rural areas of Sri Lanka and New Zealand, using balloons, satellites and drones to bring cell signals to areas where mobile Internet connections -- and other technology -- is generally unheard of.
"Those are the folks who don't have laptops. They're just starting to get on the mobile bandwagon and it's making changes in their lives in terms of access to information and connecting with others," LotusFlare co-founder Gadodia said in an interview with Business Insider. "However, it's expensive for them, so they're not on the mobile Internet. Billions of people don't even have access to a cell signal."
The company hopes to partner with local carriers to offer services to users. LotusFlare has begun trails with carriers in the Phillippines, and is working with Sri Lankan carriers to facilitate coverage through Google's Project Loon balloons.
In addition to functioning as something of a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), LotusFlare also offers an Android app -- called DataEye -- that lets users monitor and fine-tune their own data usage. The app allows users to manage data on an app-by-app basis. Further, the company's customized data packages let users cherry-pick their own apps and avoid what Gadodia called confusing terminology.
"The term megabytes should be out of the consumer's vocabulary," said Gadodia in an interview with Fortune. Instead, LotusFlare offers data packages in units of time, allowing users to buy Internet access for, say, one week.
And users aren't doing all the footwork when it comes to controlling and customizing data. The company also offers an app called Statusflare, according to Fortune, that allows third-party app companies to provide data to users. The companies can foot the bill for bandwidth to allow customers to use their apps, or they can offer a trade-off where customers watch the company's ad in exchange for more data to use how they please.
Google X head talks of failing fast, Loon and autonomous cars
Google hopes to have Project Loon customers by 2016
Middle mile, dark fiber networks are needed to drive more rural broadband