Broadcast data project could provide free uncensored internet to anyone in the world

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 12:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 5:02am

A team of developers and engineers in New York aims to launch a web-centric, global broadcast service that allows anyone, anywhere, to access free, uncensored content.

Called Outernet, its founder Syed Karim and his team plan to deploy low-cost mini-satellites to act like shortwave radios covering the world as early as June next year.

“Just imagine if all of the files from your favourite websites were broadcast over the air, instead of being available only through an internet connection,” said Karim, a director of the non-profit Media Development Investment Fund, which provides business help to independent news outlets.

“What does the future of humanity look like when a basic level of information and education is available to everyone? I really want to find out.”

Outernet wants to solve two problems – costly internet data plans and freedom of information. According to the project website, there are more computing devices on earth than people, yet only 40 per cent of the global population enjoys internet access – which the team calls a “human right”.

For the remaining 60 per cent, especially those in urban areas, the sheer “noise” from all electronic signals might prove too dense for Outernet to work. Until the team is better able to develop a broadcast service strong enough for large cities, the project will give priority to people who otherwise have no access to the internet.

“Although Outernet’s near-term goal is to provide the entire world with broadcast data, the long-term vision includes the addition of two-way internet access for everyone. For free.”

Outernet is still more conceptual than executional. But it hopes to get the cost of each mini-satellite down to US$100,000, the launch cost to US$200,000 per satellite and the cost of providing high-speed coverage, preferably on the 802.11 frequency, as low as possible.

“Leasing existing transponders – which we will be experimenting with very soon – will cost at least a couple of million dollars for global high-speed coverage,” Karim said.

Another issue is the cloud of content Outernet plans to provide. 

The team will have to decide what kind of content, generated from whom and for what purpose, will get access to the limited broadcast resources.

Outernet has the potential to eliminate the censorship networks imposed in many countries, including China, where technology giants like Google and Facebook have battled political, logistical and moral dilemmas for the world’s largest population – more than 600 million – of internet users.

That is assuming, of course, that the central government does not block satellite transmissions.

“China has extraordinary technological capabilities,” Karim says. “If the government of China wants to block all satellite transmissions, then I’m sure they could figure out a way to do that.

“Still, there is only one way to find out.”