Solutions for Self-Reliance

Free Data From Space Forever – Is Lantern The Holy Grail of Off-Grid Communication?

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Global access to the web’s best content on your mobile device. Anonymous. Uncensored. Free.

Outernet sounds great, doesn’t it? They’re running an IndieGoGo campaign right now for Lantern, which is their flagship device for receiving the free data broadcast by Outernet from space.

They’re not even a week into the month long campaign and have already passed their $200,000 fund raising goal. Right now they’re broadcasting from two commercial satellites, but if they get their way they’ll launch their own constellation of satellites to cover even the most desolate reaches of our globe with their signals.

So what is Outernet?

It’s kind of a worldwide “radio” broadcast of information and news that Lantern listens to and saves, so any wifi device can get that info, whether they have any other source of internet or not. And Lantern? In their own words…

Lantern is an anonymous portable library that constantly receives free data from space…Lantern continuously receives radio waves broadcast by Outernet from space. Lantern turns the signal into digital files, like webpages, news articles, ebooks, videos, and music. Lantern can receive and store any type of digital file on its internal drive. To view the content stored in Lantern, turn on the Wi-Fi hotspot and connect to Lantern with any Wi-Fi enabled device. All you need is a browser.

At the moment Outernet covers North America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Is it really such a big deal?

I see several potential implications that Lantern can have for disaster recovery, education, politics, local communities, and more. The company behind Outernet seem to have pretty high ambitions, too.

Like the water we drink or the air we breathe, the information we consume feeds the very essence of what it means to be human. Lantern establishes a new baseline of human knowledge. We are not fixing the world for people, we are giving them the information they need to fix it themselves.

But Lantern is far from the holy grail of communication. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • This is the main gripe I have with Outernet – While Outernet claims that Lantern will help beat censorship and pierce through walls of propaganda, the fact is that Outernet is a highly centralized communications channel compared to the regular internet. This is a private corporation that will ultimately be calling the shots about what will (and what will not) be broadcasted through the satellites to Lantern users. Couple this with the feature of sponsoring content to move it to the front of the line and it’s not hard to see how the content broadcasted through Outernet can be influenced by special interests with large pockets.
  • Very limited application in developed areas of the globe, except for grid-down scenarios such as hurricanes, prolonged war, etc. Another exception is if you live in a country where your government censors the internet, in that case you could get “uncensored” content through Lantern (again though, in developed areas a regular VPN would work just as well.)
  • Getting free information to the billions of people around the world who don’t have access to the Internet is one thing. But will they know how to apply that information to lift themselves out of poverty? Because let’s be honest, in the developed world we have all the information we need to fix the environment, feed the hungry, be healthy, etc., but most people are not applying that knowledge. More information is not necessarily the answer if that information is not applied well.

As this is their very first version of the Lantern device and there are still many question marks regarding performance and content it might make sense to hold off with a purchase, unless you have zero internet availability where you live and want to try a new way of staying connected to the world around you.

What do you think?

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