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GROUND CONTROL

Can satellite internet break the splinternet?

A stack of SpaceX Starlink satellites awaits deployment in low-earth orbit.
SpaceX
A stack of SpaceX Starlink satellites awaits deployment in low-earth orbit.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

In the abstract, the internet is a zone of digital freedom. In practice, the messy physicality of the internet—all those cables and server farms and transceivers—give states plenty of control.

But what if the internet took to the stars? If the hardware behind all the bits was in orbit, it might be harder for governments to restrict its use. That is one of the most interesting potential consequences of next-generation space internet: That a US company might link prosecuted Uighurs in China to their global diaspora, or a Chinese satellite company might beam unrestricted TikToks into American homes.

If relations between world powers sour to Cold War levels, it’s possible to imagine free internet becoming the 21st century equivalent of Voice of America radio broadcasts into the Soviet Union.

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