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The Outernet: Project aims to put world online

Only 60 percent of people on the planet has access to the Internet.

In the most populous country, 1,349,585,838 people and counting have limited access because Chinese censors silence voices critical of the government, filter search results, put up firewalls and even remove innocent-seeming American TV shows from Netflix-like streaming lists.

But that could all change with Outernet, a project started by Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), a New York-based group that seeds news outlets such as PolicyMic.

The plan is to launch a “constellation” of hundreds of mini satellites that would beam sort of a “modern version of shortwave radio” from space, bringing free Wi-Fi to everybody.

The Motherboard blog is skeptical, calling the project a “pie-in-the-sky technoutopian vision we can file away in the Probably Someday But Not Right Now folder.”

First off, critics ask, where the heck are they going to get the money for the project? The satellites will be small, but even launching one 34 x 10 x 10-centimeter payload into orbit costs a cool $300,000. The group is accepting donations for the project.

Syed Karim, a graduate of the University of Illinois who is leading the project, in a Q&A on Reddit explained that the system would only work in Wi-Fi deserts. “The noise floor in modern urban areas will be too dense” to get access in city like Pittsburgh, for example.

Reddit users were alarmed to find out that Outernet would be acting as a “broadcaster” and therefore be deciding what websites (i.e., content) would be made available.

No doubt that some access to the Internet, even if it’s only Wikipedia, is better than none in a place like North Korea. But the Reddit commenters don’t want anyone to be deciding what is shown.

h/t National Journal

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