The Outernet Project Plans for Free Internet Access for Everyone

This is a topic I think that could affect everyone so I thought I’d bring it up here. A New York-based company called Outernet is working to build a satellite-based broadcasting system that will provide access to information via the Internet to everyone on the globe. Outernet has received funding from Digital News Ventures, which is a branch of the nonprofit Media Development Investment Fund which funds news and information services in poorly served parts of the world.

Outernet plans to reach every person in the world, and bypass censorship and internet-blocking policies in place in countries like North Korea and China, reaching the 40 per cent of the world’s population that has no access to the Internet.

The initial plan of Outernet is to deploy a network of low-orbit satellites called ‘Cube Sats’ which will start to broadcast selected internet information services such as news, emergency information, educational materials (like Kahn Academy), and Wikipedia. The long-term goal “includes the addition of two-way Internet access for everyone. For free.”

This is of course a very ambitious project but the company is moving ahead with the plan, and believes it will be able to meet its goal, and plans to rely on donations from the public to finance its operations which will not come cheap. People are already able to make donations via the Outernet web site (tax-deductible in the US)

Even if this project is technically feasible there are certainly many challenges to meet for it to be successful. Some of the obvious issues that come to mind deal with security. Certainly there will be governments that will not like the fact that they will not be able to control the flow of information to its citizens and will certainly try to interfere with the Outernet. Also, if the initial plans are to broadcast only selected information streams, what kinds of programming will be chosen? Users can make recommendations on the Outernet discussion forums — maybe E-Cat World will get on the list 🙂

  • Obvious

    I was being deliberately facetious. Alternapedia has a nicer sound to it.

    Also, once consensus changes, the articles would be already mostly written in the alternate version, so that they can be easily moved over to the main pedia.

    And then just the general “facts” (always subjective, although they shouldn’t be) should be included in the main pedia zone. I.E: The Blacklight page would simply summarize the company and its goals, without the slander, etc. The swearing and assaults on character could be relegated to the alternate page extension.

  • GreenWin

    One place this concept could be useful is for global cellular. It would drastically reduce the number of competing cell towers that litter our landscape. However, this would require shared leased bandwidth and a tiered service to help pay for the huge investment and maintenance. Tiered access to internet www1-9 would also help bring business financing in. I would hope there to be a viable alternative to Wiki-anything as that service is heavily biased at best, and disinformative at worst.

    • Obvious

      Perhaps the time is ripe for a Wackopedia, where every sort of pseudoscience and counter-mainstream idea is explained in detail.

      To paraphrase, everything in moderation, including moderating.

      • GreenWin

        🙂 The two could well be interchangeable – dependent on readers mood and inclination in the moment.

        • Obvious

          Maybe just one click on the present Consensuspedia.
          Show alternate viewpoints? Yes/No

  • Andreas Moraitis

    I’m sorry for sounding pessimistically again, but I think states like North Korea would not hesitate to install jamming transmitters that would block satellite reception. These transmitters would be many orders of magnitude cheaper than the satellites themselves.

    • Fortyniner

      There is also the minor question of having your own uplink/downlink dish before you can gain access. I think that probably lets out about 98% of the world’s population. Still, perhaps something may come of it.

      • BroKeeper

        They will supply helmets with little dishes on top as a gift to be part of the borg collective. (darn there I go again)

      • GreenWin

        Fortyniner, I expect they would use a derivative of current XM-Sirius antennae. The uplink would be an issue. There was a project to to cell service via low Earth orbit called Iridium. They use 66 sats for sat phone calls – don’t know about inet data. I suppose cheap nano-sats would be the way to go go for outernet. Still, jamming will be hard to beat in those nations who want control. Proxies still seem the best workaround censorship.

  • Tim

    This is just another form of censorship. Granted it’s free, so one shouldn’t complain too much, but if they truly wanted to be revolutionary, they’d offer access to the ENTIRE internet for free. Nonetheless, for places like N. Korea, Iran, or Pakistan, this is quite the step up.

  • Fortyniner

    I’m afraid that I share some other contributor’s reservations on this one. Global broadcasting from a new chain of satellites – that costs real money, not the kind of loot some small but well-meaning comms company could come up with – so who is really behind this idea?

    It’s generally acknowledged that increasing numbers of people totally distrust the mainstream media (especially but not exclusively the American media) and turn to ‘alternative’ sources on the internet. Some of these are clearly compromised (wikipedia) or even set up solely for the purpose of spreading disinformation (quackwatch and similar) but by and large there are enough genuinely independent sources to meet the need.

    So far most attempts by governments outside the ‘far east’ to control the disemination of information TPTB don’t want spread around have been unsuccessful, or at best only partially successful (e.g., wikileaks), so the logical next step might be to set up a seemingly independent second internet which is entirely under their control. What better method to ensure that it is widely taken up, perhaps even displacing telephone/cable broadband, than to make it free to the user?

    • Obvious

      Probably every one of the cubesats contains a tungsten anvil which can be dropped on anywhere in the world they want….
      City-wide free wifi network implementation is already undermining cell phone networks. The sats will fill in the holes between the cities, albeit with limited capability. What you are seeing is a radical shift in communication as “traditional” cell phone networks are made obsolete.

  • Gerrit

    what version of the cold fusion story will be “broadcasted” the wikipedia version or the real story ?

    Spreading misinformation doesn’t become legit just because it’s free of charge.

  • Mr. Moho

    If selected information will be broadcast, implying read-only access, how will this be any different than propaganda-filled TV? This won’t be the Internet as we know it.

    • Fortyniner

      There would have to be some element of user input if only to search the ‘alternative’ web and select URLs, otherwise it would just be ‘on demand’ TV. Or perhaps that’s what is intended, and the user will only be able to choose from some kind of ‘menu’ system that selectively decodes a multiplexed signal.

    • ecatworld

      The plan as stated is for the broadcasting of information to be the first step — later they say that full access to the internet will provided.

      • Mr. Moho

        Free full satellite-based internet access is not a feasible goal in my opinion. Given the size of the potential userbase, it would require enormous amounts of bandwidth for even just Web access.