Facebook is planning to launch a satellite to provide internet access to remote parts of Africa, the social network’s founder has said.

Mark Zuckerberg announced that the satellite was under construction and would be ready for launch into space in 2016 as part of the company’s free mobile data scheme Internet.org.

Mark Zuckerberg – I’m excited to announce our first… | Facebook

The project marks the next step in the Internet.org initiative, with the company earlier this year testing solar-powered drones which could beam internet signals from the skies above the UK.

But Internet.org, which aims to get the entire planet online, has come under fire from digital rights groups in countries including Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia over net-neutrality concerns.

Facebook is developing the satellite with French firm Eutelsat and Mr Zuckerberg said he hoped to “connect millions of people” in hard-to-reach areas.

Mark Zuckerberg at a Facebook event
(Jeff Chiu/AP)

Eutelsat said users would be able to access the internet from the satellite on “affordable, off-the-shelf customer equipment” from the second half of next year.

The Internet.org scheme was created alongside partnering mobile carriers in parts of Africa, Asia and South America to bring some internet access to parts of the world where it was restricted, with selected services – including Wikipedia, BBC News, Facebook and some local news providers – made available via the scheme’s app without any data charge applying.

But in an open letter sent in May, 67 online rights groups said the project threatened freedom of expression, privacy and the principle of net neutrality – the idea that all data is treated equally online – because only selected services could take advantage of it.