'Outernet' Project Seeks Free Internet Access For Earth

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If Internet access really is a human right, then blocking it would constitute a human rights violation. That’s the thinking behind Project Outernet, an ambitious plan from a New York-based nonprofit seeking to set up free Internet access for all.

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The organization, Media Development Investment Fund or MDIF for short, wants to build and launch hundreds of miniature satellites into low Earth orbit to transmit data streams from several hundred ground stations, according to their plans. Then the new network would, in theory, allow anyone with an Internet-ready devices to receive data — skirting censorship measures.

MDIF says it wants to send out news, agricultural info, educational courseware, free applications and emergency info in case local cell networks fail. One catch is the new network would start out as one-way, Phys.org’s Bob Yirka noted. With enough funding later on, the organization could eventually make the network two-way.

Currently the organization plans to have prototype satellites ready in June with initial deployment happening mid-2015. Just building and launching one mini-satellite is an expensive, involved undertaking, though. And it could have unintended consequences.

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“Imagine four billion additional participants in the global marketplace of ideas,” the project description reads. “Imagine the avalanche of creativity, innovation, and invention.” I support access but I’m not naive. There are places in the world where an influx of Western ideas and information could make for a deadly avalanche.

Image: A data visualization showing early Internet service providers. The new Outernet project aims to give everyone free Internet access. Credit: Lumeta Corporation 2000-2014. All Rights Reserved.