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A Common Mission

Just over a month ago, I stood in the streets of Delhi as the results of India’s general election were announced. The difference between the headquarters of the two major parties was stark: the Congress party HQ, which suffered their worst defeat in India’s history, was abandoned while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) HQ, which won a landslide victory, was nearly inaccessible due to the crowd.

Congress Party headquarters with billboards of former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in the background

I had witnessed the largest election in human history (writing about it for Quartz). 815 million people were eligible to vote, of which 66.4% - 540 million - turned up at the 900,000+ polling stations spread across India geographically and temporally over 5 weeks. When you really think about it, the feat of this election was herculean. Voters had to be registered, information spread, and the electorate mobilized.

BJP headquarters barricaded from direct entrance via the street. 

Yet, we vote everyday. We make decisions on how to feed ourselves and our children, how to allocate our leisure time, and when and where to make purchases. Some of us have to decide when to plant crops, how to treat illness without access to proper medical facilities, and how to teach our children when schooling is scarce. In more dire cases, we choose when to resist oppression or when to flee when conflict arises and, if so, where. A successful vote, from the political to the mundane, hinges on three things: access, information, and participation. These conditions vary across India for a political election just as they do across the world for the silent ballots we cast constantly. But what if these three factors were raised to a common global denominator? The question then becomes: what will humanity vote for?

At present, roughly 60% of the human race cannot touch the Internet and the information it grants access to. If, tomorrow, all that information were suddenly available to everyone, how would that alter our trajectory as a species? Suddenly, our entire intellectual capacity would be unlocked - not just 40% of it. Literacy could be solved via audio files, open courseware for higher learning could be viewed anywhere, “censorship” becomes more like smallpox - a disease once prevalent but now eradicated - and the horizon spreads endlessly.

One day, we will look at this step as so logical it will be overlooked. Information access for everyone will be viewed by future generations as so fundamentally critical that cliches will be coined about the time when the world was any other way. This has happened before.

Three hundred years ago, the notion of knowing one’s longitude at sea was an impractical idea. While latitude can be fixed via the stars, knowing longitude requires the keeping of time so that one’s local noon, as determined by the sun appearing directly overhead, can be compared to the noon of a fixed point (like Greenwich) that is maintained on a reliable ship's clock. The distance can then be calculated knowing the sun moves roughly 15 degrees every hour. But clocks at sea were precarious due to constant motion, salt corrosion, and fluctuating temperature affecting the metals. Just a few seconds of error can translate into several nautical miles of inaccuracy and, in turn, enormous risk in navigation. Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens, two of the greatest minds of the time, doubted such a clock could ever be built. After a navigation error resulted in one of the largest naval disasters in British history, the British Parliament created a prize of £20,000 for anyone who could find a way to reliably determine longitude. Like we view the notion of curing cancer today, people wondered if longitude could ever be solved. Then, in 1736, a carpenter from a tiny village in rural England named John Harrison tested the first iteration of his marine chronometer on a voyage to Lisbon. He would go on to claim the prize and subsequently relegate the problem of longitude to the cobwebbed shelves of forgotten obstacles.

We are innately curious. We sail even if we cannot know precisely where we are or where we are going. With Outernet, that phase of human history will come to a welcome close.

From one historic human election to another, I am thrilled to be a part of the Outernet mission. Please stay in touch.


Thane Richard, Director of User Engagement

Outernet Global Correspondents

Outernet is looking for an individual from every country on Earth to help us test the Outernet signal around the world. More importantly, though, we want people who understand the far reaching impact that Outernet can have and want to experiment with us on that frontier.

We want adventurers who are unafraid to break convention and take free information to places where it might not be welcome today.

We want dreamers who can imagine a world where everyone is free to push the boundaries of their curiosity.

We want explorers eager to go to far off places, meet new people, and change the world.

Correspondents will receive complimentary hardware from Outernet and will be tasked with contributing regularly to a global media project documenting the launch of Outernet. The visions of correspondents regarding the use cases of Outernet should challenge ours in their audacity.

The correspondent's work will be published on a specially designed platform and broadcast over Outernet, making the audience for this project in the billions.

Outernet will begin accepting applications for correspondents in Fall 2014. For more information on when and how to apply, please subscribe to our newsletter.
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

— Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Where Should Outernet Come Online First?

Please tell us where you think Outernet should be switched on first by filling out this one question survey. Remember, Outernet plans to eventually make service available everywhere and always for free.

In addition to thinking about what might be a preference for your own local Outernet service, also consider the need to make Outernet as effective as possible from the outset. Think about the greatest impact Outernet could have in radical change as well as how many hypotheses about Outernet could be tested and what aspects of information freedom can be altered.

The product test will take place over Ku band and come online in late summer 2014.

We appreciate people who see the world differently, so thank you Brennan Letkemanfor this map that forces us to do just that. We altered his original design to add our coverage blobs.