The internet is the repository of all information and the mechanism to communicate with anyone; however many still do not have internet access. Is it possible to create a WiFi blanket for planet Earth, offered free of charge? Outernet is seeking to accomplish just that.

Background

A 2013 United Nations report, declared that free and open access to the internet is a human right. For many, that moment simply marked a confirmation of what they already knew. The internet has long been hailed as a tool to unite, educate, and inform everyone. The issue of how to actually grant global internet access has not been one met with the same spirit of unity. There is a vested political and economic interest by many in power to tightly control and censor the internet. There are people willing to challenge them, however there has yet to be any major breakthrough.

In 2012, Kim Dotcom (founder of Megaupload and Mega) announced that he would be giving his native New Zealand free broadband internet. The long-term plan has yet to be delivered upon, however it was a significant moment because it began to raise the question as to whether a wealthy individual could actually make that impact. Could one person really “donate” free internet access to a nation of 4 million people?

Then in 2013, Google announced Loon, a system for delivering WiFi to rural communities via balloons floating above them. You can watch the video below for more information:

The project is still in the early stages, and while promising local impact, it is not yet a global solution.

Outernet

Outernet is a non-profit project that is promising to deliver free, global, open access to the web via a network of small satellites in Low Earth Orbit. Initially, it would be a 1-way mechanism that beams vital information such as Wikipedia, News, Crop data, OpenStreetMap, Educational Courseware, and emergency communications. The long term goal is to create 2-way access that is the fully operational internet that we are currently using. According to their official timeline, 2014 will be design and testing and then 2015 will conclude testing and begin to launch.

Can It Work?

I always start with 2 core statements:

  1. I am a sketpic. I need proof of concept or demonstration before I can really buy in.
  2. I am a supporter. If you have a vision for the future that helps to bring mankind forward, then I want you to succeed.

With that in mind, I would like to see them focus on one core issue first, and that is the emergency notification system. A network of satellites able to send SMS or even web-based notifications to people all over the planet that warn them of extreme weather, violent conflict, or any scenario where a large number of people are in danger would be a revolution in of itself.

I absolutely hope to see an era in which every person on the planet has open and free internet access, however I want this project to be realistic about its ability to deliver on its goals. From their list of stated objectives, the global alert system is the most doable and perhaps the most immediately crucial to accomplish.

Head to the project’s website at Outernet.is for more information or to donate.