Letter: Don’t Give Space Billionaires Control of Internet Services

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In their interview with Josef Aschbacher, the new CEO of the European Space Agency, Peggy Hollinger and Clive Cookson touch on just a few of the issues we might face if we allow billionaires and private companies to wrap up our tiny, layered planet of fast-flying low-earth orbiting satellites (“Let Musk Make Space Economy Rules, European Agency Says,” Interview, December 6).

While policymakers focus on the implications for astronomy, space waste and the monopolization of orbital planes, they largely ignore the implications of the operation for the ISP. The dynamics of Internet infrastructure and regulations will change when a private ISP operates globally.

While the United States Federal Communications Commission and the International Telecommunication Union regulate frequency allocation, and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs deals with many other matters relating to space operations, neither one nor the other is neither equipped nor ready to deal with network neutrality or ISP concerns.

But there are many questions that remain unanswered even as billionaire space cowboys launch their rockets. Will billions of new Internet users be put online to be put in another “walled garden” or another echo chamber?

Elon Musk owns Starlink, the satellite internet service run by SpaceX, his private rocket company. But what if the future Starlink owners decide to filter or redirect the traffic?

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is gearing up to launch a similar constellation of internet satellites. Will internet usage become another entry for Amazon’s recommendation engine? Will Shopify stores be blocked or just unknown to Blue Origin users?

Or will a planned Russia-based system be offered free to Western countries when its real purpose is to serve as an additional tool for espionage?

Global ISPs are something new: ISPs with global coverage whose services do not have to be defined by borders. Our leaders should seize this opportunity to set a new global standard for open and unhindered Internet access that respects human rights and empowers people.

We can’t leave it up to space cowboys like Musk, Bezos, and Richard Branson.

J Scott Christianson
University of Missouri
Colombia, Missouri, United States

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