Outernet: Open Information and a Great Idea

Published on: March 1, 2014 • Filed in: Industry News

For someone who makes a living helping companies and non-profit organizations build their small corner of the Internet, I spend a good bit of time thinking about people who don’t have access to the Internet.

In the United States, we often take access for granted. Our cell phones have access, our laptops have access, even our iPods can use the Internet at most any restaurant or hotel, usually for free. Even for those people who don’t have the means to buy a device, the entire world is at your fingertips at your local library. Let’s face it, we’re pretty connected here; the 81% of our population that uses the Internet makes up the second largest number of users for any country in the world.

It is easy to forget that there are countries where Internet access is too expensive (or too dangerous to the established government) to allow for widespread use. A full 72 countries have under 25% of their population using the Internet; that’s more than a third of this list.

The sad part is, that’s not even an exhaustive list, as North Korea, a country of 24.5 million people only known to own 1,278 heavily censored IP addresses, is noticeably absent. Even if each of those IP address gives access to 100 citizens, which I’m sure it doesn’t, that’s still only ½ of one percent of the population.

Globally, there simply isn’t enough people being able to find out what’s really going on in the world, take free on-line educational courses, or do the really important things, like look up cute pictures of cats wanting cheeseburgers.

So, how to you get all those crazy cats (and news and educational resources, too) delivered to those who can’t afford to, or are not allowed to, access it? You give it away for free from space, of course. At least, that’s what a newly formed non-profit Outernet plans to do. Their initial plan is to launch a set of low-orbit satellites that will broadcast a loop of information including local and international news, crop prices, online courses, all of Wikipedia, and emergency notifications. Long term, they want to turn the satellites into a full, free, two-way, global way to get access to the Internet, so everyone can enjoy all the cute cat pictures they can stand.

Three things make this non-profit amazing:

  1. Their engineer has two of the three coolest names ever.
  2. Unrestricted, free access to information raining down on everyone…
  3. …from space.