Can we save the open internet by moving it to space?

The Internet is being split into very large private networks. The beautiful vision of 1 global network in which any 2 computers can communicate in the lingua franca of TCP/IP, enabling anyone to publish content to anyone else in the world, is dying.

China has had the Great Firewall for 20 years, deciding which communication flows in and out of the country are permitted. Iran and Russia are building similar nationwide intranets and closing off access to the outside world. But the trend is spreading beyond the usual suspects: India has recently banned 59 Chinese apps, the US is threatening to ban TikTok and WeChat, etc.

But what if it soon won’t be possible for governments to enforce this kind of censorship?

Today, we’re connected via fiberoptic cables, many which are laying at the bottom of the Oceon quietly shuffling along your packets.

Fiber optic cables around the world
Map of the 406 cables known today by submarinecablemap.com

There’s basically a manageable number of these cables going into each country, which makes it possible for governments to control each entry point which links the country’s network to the rest of the Internet (Gateways), and apply censorship rules there.

So what happens in a few years when our Internet traffic is being routed through Space, not through these cables that are so easy to police?

Yep – in case you didn’t know, we’re moving the backbone of the internet to space. We will soon have thousands of satellites orbiting Earth, beaming our data across the world via lasers. This will be faster for long distances (and cheaper to cover the whole world with) so will replace the current fiberoptic cables solution. (Great primer video).

The size of the opportunity is such that there’s a real — uh, orbit– grab to get there first (although there is room for many winners):

Watch 57,000 planned satellites swarm Earth within 9 years ...

As a user (or group of users) you’ll get your own satellite dish, point it at the sky and boom, here is your 100MB/s+ Internet access to the global internet.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has revealed new details about the firm's highly anticipated Starlink venture. The billionaire tweeted that the terminals used to connect to the train of satellites will look like 'a thin, flat, round UFO on a stick'
possible spacex starlink satellite internet user terminal ufo stick pizza phased array antenna prototype wisconsin darkpenguin22 reddit imgur GMnpPBg bi

Now, reluctantly putting our authoritarian government cap on, how can this be censored?

Assuming a citizen in your country has managed to acquire one of these dishes (or build their own), isn’t it going to be extremely difficult to monitor the air waves and detect that they’re communicating with a satellite above the country? A bit like how a government can’t do much to stop a pirate radio broadcast?

Will the censorship then have to move to orbit, i.e preventing StarLink satellites from going above China? (Satellite wars are already brewing, covered in The Economist this summer…)

Hope for the Open Internet?

One thought on “Can we save the open internet by moving it to space?

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