Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg drops case to acquire Hawaiian land

Mark Zuckerberg, wearing a suit and audio earpiece, sits in front of a a Facebook logoImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionZuckerberg said he was trying to locate the land’s rightful owners to ensure they were fairly paid

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has dropped attempts to acquire land for his Hawaii estate through the courts.

The billionaire tech mogul had filed a legal case seeking to acquire small pockets of land within his large estate on the island of Kauai.

But his use of the so-called “quiet title” legal system led to criticism from other residents.

He said he had not taken the time to fully understand the process. “It’s clear we made a mistake,” he said.

Mr Zuckerberg bought a 700-acre estate on the Hawaiian island, where he says his family wish to “put down roots”.

However, the estate is littered with a number of small parcels of land called kuleana.

Kuleana rights are part of the history of the Hawaiian islands, as the small areas of land were handed out to native tenant farmers in the 1850s. The access, fishing, and water rights can be complex.

The Facebook CEO said he had asked the courts to find the owners of abandoned plots so he could settle ownership with them – many of whom, he said, would not even know they owned any land.

But he faced criticism from some locals, including state representative Kaniela Ing, who argued the effective compulsory purchase would limit access rights for native Hawaiians.

“Who needs 700 acres of paradise? It seems a bit excessive,” he said in one video posted to his Facebook page.

But Mr Zuckerberg, announcing his decision in a letter to local newspaper The Garden Island on Friday, said the controversy had taught him more about the historical significance of the land rights.

“We understand that for native Hawaiians, kuleana are sacred and the quiet title process can be difficult,” he wrote.

“Upon reflection, I regret that I did not take the time to fully understand the quiet title process and its history before we moved ahead. Now that I understand the issues better, it’s clear we made a mistake.”

After Mr Zuckerberg dropped the case, Mr Ing responded saying: “I am humbled. Thousands of everyday people stood up and spoke out against one of the most influential billionaires, the best PR professionals, and the best attorneys in the world, and we won.”

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TV from the sun: ‘Now I am connected to the whole world’

Stanley Gikonyo says his life has been transformed by satellite TV. “I am connected to the whole world,” he says.

But what’s extraordinary is that his house, where he lives with his wife and two children in Mwea, central Kenya, has no access to mains electricity.

Instead, the power for Mr Gikonyo’s new TV service comes directly from the sun. He is one of the early adopters of AzuriTV – a new solar-powered satellite TV service that gives his family access to 50 channels.

He says the system is already making his life easier, and has opened new doors for his farming business.

“I had been using other solar panels and normal batteries, which gave me a hell of a time in charging them, and with acid spills,” he says.

“The AzuriTV has for sure done me good – I can now watch my favourite stations. In particular, I watch Shamba Shape Up, which gives a lot of insights into the best farming practices.

House with satellite dish at nightImage copyrightAZURITV
Image captionOff-grid Kenyan households can now watch satellite TV at night, powered by daytime sun

“I am connected to the whole world.”

Mr Gikonyo runs a small farm, or shamba, producing mostly vegetables and poultry, and he was one of the estimated 69% of Kenya’s adult population that does not have daily access to television.

Off-grid, power on

UK-based solar company Azuri Technologies and Kenyan satellite TV provider Zuku launched the service in Kenya in December.

A solar panel is fixed to the roof of a customer’s home, and connects to a battery which powers a range of appliances, including lamps, a mobile phone charger, and a 24-inch (61cm) TV which accesses Zuku’s Smart satellite TV service.

Users pay an upfront fee of 4,999 Kenyan shillings (£39) for the system, and thereafter pay 149 shillings(£1.15) per day. By the end of two years on this payment schedule, customers own the kit outright.

While solar power products have been available in Kenya for several years, and some free-to-air terrestrial TV stations have been accessible in rural areas, this is the first time off-grid households have had access to a full range of satellite pay-TV channels.

AzuriTV kitImage copyrightAZURITV
Image captionHouseholders receive a kit that includes solar panel, battery, satellite dish, TV, radio and lights

All powered by the sun.

Missionary teacher Zacharia Maundu, who lives with his wife and two children in Kenya’s Embu county, says: “My experience with AzuriTV is fantastic. Through it I am no longer cut off from information and entertainment.

“Watching the news has made us updated with the world’s happenings.”

AzuriTV provides lighting in their home, including a security night light, as well as access to world news and entertainment.

“Azuri aims to go beyond lighting and to provide each customer with TVs, internet access, entertainment and a range of services,” says Azuri Technologies boss Simon Bransfield-Garth.

Rising sun

But he’s not the only one to recognise this demand.

M-Kopa Solar has been providing pay-as-you-go solar power in East Africa for the past five years. About 500,000 households across the region use the company’s products, and 10 months ago, the firm added 30 free-to-air TV channels to its offering.

“It was very demand driven,” says Jesse Moore, M-Kopa Solar’s chief executive. “TV has always been something people aspire to having in their homes.”

Young girls watching solar-powered TVImage copyrightALLAN GICHIGI
Image captionM-Kopa Solar has also added TV to its suite of solar-powered services

He envisages solar powering an increasing number of home appliances, with refrigeration and air conditioning supplementing lighting, TV and internet.

And last year, tech company Cello Electronics developed a solar-powered 22-inch (56cm) TV designed to service the 1.2 billion people in the world without access to a reliable electricity supply.

Its smart antenna picks up high definition broadcasts and also has a built-in satellite tuner, while the solar panel and battery can provide up to 10 hours of operation on a single charge, the company says.

Realising that the $300 cost might be prohibitive for many poorer regions, Cello has introduced its own pay-as-you-watch scheme whereby householders only pay for the amount of TV they watch.

They can buy unlock codes through the remote control handset.

Competition

Danson Njue, research analyst at Ovum, says that while solar-powered satellite TV is a substantial addition to the services previously available to rural and off-grid consumers, its popularity will attract more competitors in to the market.

“The service may face some challenges, such as price competition from other service providers, as well as increased rural electrification under the government-led last mile connectivity project,” says Mr Njue.

family watching satellite TVImage copyrightALLAN GICHIGI
Image captionSolar TV services are in high demand, suppliers say

“In my opinion, increased electrification may see some households switch to other services that use normal grid power as opposed to solar.”

But connecting people to mains electricity is expensive.

The Africa Progress Panel, chaired by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, estimates that investment in electricity infrastructure would need to rise to $55bn (£44bn) a year across the continent, compared to the $8bn a year currently being spent.

M-Kopa Solar’s Mr Moore concedes that traditional infrastructure roll-out could pose a threat to solar power, but he believes it is the add-on services, like TV, that that will encourage rural populations to “leapfrog” traditional infrastructure and embrace sustainable power.

“If all we could achieve was lighting, any rational customer would hope the grid will come to them,” says Mr Moore.

“But as we add more services, we hope customers will ask ‘why would I connect to the grid?’ Adding grid power is more expensive, less reliable, and doesn’t offer relevant payment models.

“We think ultimately rural Africa will leapfrog the grid, and have access to all sorts of services.”