Outernet and access to information

The internet is arguably one of the most life changing creations. Most of us take the Internet for granted. We have constant access to internet and can get all the information we need in seconds. We can also broadcast information and stay connected via email, social media or blogs. But a lot of the world does not have access to internet or has access to a small subset of censored internet data. Information is one of the most empowering things. Access to information can shape your thinking and help you make better informed decisions. It can expose you to different things that you did not know existed. Having access to all the academic knowledge from around the world can improve quality of education. This would lead to more knowledgable individuals making smarter decisions. In countries like Cuba where internet access is limited, expensive and censored, people have created a black market for data. There are people in Cuba that sell a 1TB hard drive loaded with content like music, movies, TV shows and other media from around the world. Some even setup WiFi hot spots and connect their hard drives so people can access the content nearby. On the other end of the spectrum, many countries in Africa don’t have internet access. There are some areas that have the ability to get 3G data connections but people don’t see a need to pay for internet access.

One project that wants to change all this is Outernet. Outernet is a new ambitious project that aims to sell devices like the Lantern which has a hard drive, WiFi hotspot and a solar panel in one package. The hard drive has content stored in it, the WiFi hotspot broadcasts the content, and the solar panels power the device. It also plans to launch satellites in space that can push updates to the Lantern devices and wirelessly send new content to the devices. These devices can be used in places like Cuba and Africa to get access to the latest information and stay connected with the rest of the world. Though this is a one-way communication channel as people will be able to view content from around the world but not broadcast content using email or social media. This is still a great start as people around the world could get access to articles on Wikipedia, videos from Khan Academy and other core content curated by the Outernet team. This could act as an aid to teachers in remote villages in Africa and provide educational resources to students. It would also help people get access to news archives and learn about different subjects which would allow them to make better decisions.

Projects like Outernet do face some challenges as censored countries might not want their citizens to have access to all information, specially if it alters their views on a regime. But even if the project proves helpful for cases like education in Africa, it would be a great step forward, till projects like Loon enable global internet access.