It sounds like sci-fi, but it's actually wi-fi. A New York company called the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) is launching a project known as Outernet, aimed at bringing free wi-fi Internet service to everyone on Earth. The project involves hundreds of small satellites that would be launched into orbit, with the capability of beaming wireless Internet signals to all corners of the globe. The developers say only 60% of the world's population now has access to the Internet, because of lack of technical infrastructure in many countries. The Outernet system could close that gap by essentially bringing the web to people from space.
Darrell West, Vice President of Government Studies at the Brookings Institute, is intrigued by the idea. "It's a way to help users get access to the Internet, and it's a way to help bring costs down right now," he tells KTRH. "The world is moving toward wi-fi, even the telecom carriers are starting to encourage people to go off their networks and make use of the wi-fi." For that reason, West doesn't anticipate there will be a lot of opposition from the existing telecoms. "As traffic has grown and the networks have gotten more congested, the major players have realized that wi-fi can actually help them," he says.
MDIF hasn't said exactly what the Outernet project will cost, but the company is trying to raise tens of millions of dollars in donations to get it off the ground. Developers have a very ambitious schedule for the project. Later this year, they plan to ask NASA to test some of the technology at the International Space Station. If those tests pan out, the company plans to begin launching satellites in early 2015, and begin "broadcasting" the web from space by June 2015. But West cautions that their plans may be a bit too ambitious. "There are many parts of the world where it's going to be difficult to do this," he says. "Even with satellite technology, it's going to be hard to wire all parts of the world."