It’s been awful quiet over here at A Human Right, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been working hard to fulfill our mission.
Today, TIME unveiled Oluvus, a public benefit corporation we have been refining over the last year. At Oluvus, we won’t just get you online for free, we’re getting others that are disconnected, connected. Check our the fantastic piece showcasing our vision and wander on over to see us at Oluvus.com.
We’re looking forward to including you on this next step of our journey.
We bring you this year-end update in memory of Aaron Swartz, a pioneering activist for Internet freedom who inspired us all. Our objectives for 2013 are dedicated to him.
2012 was an incredible year for A Human Right. Here are some highlights:
We Moved a Cable: St. Helena, one of the most remote islands on earth, shares a single satellite Internet connection amongst its 4,200 residents that is equal in capacity to two average mainland UK homes. A lack of fast and inexpensive Internet access hasn’t helped development on this island. When we found out that a transatlantic cable was to narrowly miss the island by 500 km, we got to work. Operation ‘Move This Cable’, a lobbying effort to connect the tiny island, was successful. Cable company eFive Telecoms altered the planned route of a 1000-mile stretch of fiber optic cable, adding a spur to St Helena. Next step: get the landing site funded! Learn more: movethiscable.org
2013 TED Prize Finalist: A Human Right and the Bandwidth Bank concept is a finalist for the 2013 TED Prize! We are honored to have made it to the final selection rounds for the $1 million prize.
‘Out of Service’ blog: After hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, we reached out to a number of relief organizations to collaborate and restore connectivity. In addition, we started the ‘Out of Service’ blog to collect the stories of what life is like disconnected. You can read them here.
The United Nations Protects Human Rights and the Internet: Not only did we partner with the United Nations, in a monumental step the UN moved to protect human rights on the Internet while calling member states to “promote and facilitate access to the internet”. They affirmed that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression…” Solid approval for our international work! Learn more here and here.
The Bandwidth Bank: Much like a food bank, The Bandwidth Bank collects unused Internet capacity and makes it available for humanitarian purposes in the areas of education, disaster relief, gender equality, health, and development. We’ve connected with dozens of telecommunications companies and partners who are taking a role in bringing the Bandwidth Bank to life, both as donors and as bandwidth recipients. We partnered with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to better manage bandwidth allocation in the event of a disaster. This year, keep your eye out for a few pilot projects and some great new partnerships!
‘A Better World by Design’ 2012 Challenge Winner: The Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University group were so kind to highlight our work and award us for our efforts to bridge the digital divide. Learn more about the challenge here.
‘Web’ The Film: Ahead of its premiere in 2013, we’ve been working with the filmmakers behind Web, a documentary film that chronicles what happens when children in a Peruvian village get online for the first time. Watch the trailer here, and stay tuned for updates!
New Website: We are thrilled by our fresh new website that, we believe, encapsulates the essence of what we’re trying to accomplish. What do you think?
Tax deductible status: Donors with US bank accounts can finally enjoy a tax deduction for making a contribution to A Human Right. Your support is what keeps our operation running. Become a monthly donor and ensure everyone is connected.
There is a lot on the agenda for 2013, and we are delighted to have your support. Join us by throwing a fundraising event, sharing our message, or donating to A Human Right! Have a tremendous new year.
Last year the filmmakers at Righteous Pictures approached us with an intriguing idea. They had nearly completed their feature film ‘Web’ which captures the story of what happens when Internet access arrives to a remote village in the Amazon. They wanted to use their film to further our efforts of increasing Internet access around the world.
Sprinkled with interviews from Internet luminaries like Vint Cerf (co-inventor of the Internet), Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia), and writer Clay Shirky – Web explores what it means to be disconnected and what happens when Internet access is turned on for the first time.
The story focuses on the families of Palestina, a remote village in Peru, who were taking part in the One Laptop Per Child program. The children were given laptops, and the village was wired up to the Internet – what happens next is amazing.
While children explored the world that exists outside their small village, adults looked on in both fear and awe of what this new source of information would mean for them.
Though the film is slated for release later this year we’re delighted to announce some sneak peaks of their latest clip, which will soon be released by Wikimedia in a Wikipedia year-end update. As their non-profit partner all donated funds raised by the film will benefit A Human Right and our work to connect the world. Watch the clip here and sign up to the Web mailing list for film updates!
Recently the United Nations International Telecoms Union, or ITU, has come under fire for a conference it is putting on called the WCIT-12. Companies like Google and groups like Access Now have banded together to stop the ITU from the perceived threat that it intends to destroy the Internet through a unilateral closed-door decision making process by the world’s governments. We think there is more to this story. Let’s start from the top.
The telegraph connected people at the speed of light across thousands of miles. Clunky as the technology was, it was in demand and telegraph companies realized that if they strung cables across the ocean floor they could connect entire continents to one another. In 1858, with much pomp and circumstance, the first transatlantic telegraph was sent between the US and UK. The thick 2,000-mile cable promptly blew up thereafter, but many more were to replace it.
Soon the telephone made its appearance followed by the Internet. Every phone call, webpage, or text message that you send or receive from a person or computer on another continent has to cross the (now upgraded) cables that snake across the ocean floor between the world’s continents. We’ve also added new technologies like long-range radio communications and satellites that make connecting across continents even more seamless. If you’re reading this outside the United States this post was made possible by a transatlantic cable across the ocean floor. (So cool, right?)
However, with the advent of fancy new global technologies came new global problems: What are the rules for pulling a cable through international waters? Who is protect the cable when it finds itself on another country’s shores (anchors are a bit of an issue)? If a satellite can provide service to the entirety of continental Europe, which country decides what frequencies it can operate on (Cuba jams basically all of them)? There are only so many places you can put a satellite without them crashing into one another – who decides where each satellite should be parked (also known as an ‘orbital slot’)? And how do we connect all these technologies together so no one is left out (because working together can be tricky)?
…These are big questions, and the ITU was created almost 150 years ago to address them.
What is the ITU? How does it work? First and foremost, the ITU is us! As a United Nations organization, it is made up of representatives from 193 member countries. Delegates are selected by each member country to represent the country’s interests. Members from the private sector and civil society organizations can participate in the dialog as well. Generally, country delegates bring an entourage to ensure that their country’s interests are well represented – for example, the United States is bringing 125 people to the WCIT-12 as part of its delegation.
Each delegate from the 193 member countries has a vote and the voting rules dictate that a majority vote wins. This is how treaties are decided between countries, how orbital parking spots for satellites are given away, how standards are agreed upon, and how international spectrum is handed out.
The ITU has done this for decades and are a major reason why we have the global telecommunications system we enjoy today. Could you imagine having to negotiate an Internet plan with every country from which you accessed a webpage? The ITU and its member countries take care of that. The ITU is a far cry from perfect – they have a history of catering to commercial interests (arguably because no one in recent history has really had a vested interest except industry), being outrageously slow, and not being particularly quick to innovate. (Can you believe that charging for long distance phone calls is still a thing?)
It all seems straight forward, except for the ITU’s alleged diabolical plan to take over the Internet, right? The main issue that companies and civil rights groups are taking umbrage with is a lack of transparency in the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12). Allow me to elaborate.
The WCIT-12 is going to be the event if you work in telecommunications. It’s like the Oscars for telecommunications bureaucrats and telco executives except you’ve never heard of anyone in attendance and they don’t give out awards. The event brings together delegates from all countries to update the regulations of the ITU. The last event was in 1988 in Melbourne Australia (WATTC-88) and everyone from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe was in attendance. What did they do? They updated the same set of regulations that were ratified in 1977. These regulations are the basic set of rules that all the member countries adhere to.
Now, the major concern is what changes will be made to the regulations at this year’s event? The Internet was barely around in 1988, how do we know that the world’s countries aren’t going to write some draconian regulation that will censor the entirety of the World Wide Web? For example, earlier this year Russia drafted a nasty set of amendments and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated he’d like “international control over the Internet” which ruffled a lot of feathers. But you have to remember: Russia and its prime minister can say whatever they want – it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It takes a majority vote for anything to pass at the ITU. Getting 97 countries to agree on anything is hard enough, suggesting they would agree to hand control of the Internet over to Russia is just silly. Consequently, Russia has scrambled to put together a revised highly watered-down version of its amendments to the regulations.
So why is it a closed-door process? Conspiracy theories aside – the ITU is 147 years old and for many of those years not many in the general public knew of its existence – transparency wasn’t really an issue. There is also a legitimate reason to keep the proceedings private: the ITU makes about 15% of its operational funding from selling access to documents like the ones in question to industry.
And what exactly are these top-secret amendments being proposed this year at WCIT? Well, we live in the Internet age and closed-door processes are hard to keep private – so feel free to view the entire set of documents here. Download the epic 200+ page overview here if you’re feeling ambitious. And if you’re looking for a more user friendly read, check out this piece by US Ambassador David Gross.
Is it likely that censorship regulations will be passed by the ITU? Not likely at all. The United Nations ‘Declaration of Human Rights’, which sets the tone for all the work that the United Nations does, says it quite bluntly: “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.” Additionally the ITU’s own constitution protects the rights for the public to access telecommunications in Article 33: “Member States recognize the right of the public to correspond by means of the international service of public correspondence. […]”
And then there’s always the question of how the ITU could even enforce an Internet censorship regulation. Does the ITU have any enforcement powers? No, it doesn’t. According to UK Wired Magazine, “The ITU has no enforcement mechanism. Treaties do count as international law and states are bound to observe them. But apart from some exceptions such as WTO, there are no enforcement mechanisms if states do not observe them.”
The question remains: what is the big world-ending deal? Who is the enemy? If anything, it is member states like Russia who propose amendments that will never pass and the ITU’s inane lack of transparency that feeds the flames of controversy. Is the ITU or the United Nations trying to power grab the Internet from the citizens of planet Earth? No. This is a flagrant misunderstanding of what the mission of the United Nations is. At the end of the day, the ITU is a standards organization with little enforcement power.
Are there risks? Unfortunately, yes. Even though the United Nations has moved to protect Human Rights on the Internet, worked hard to promote universal access as a means of accomplishing the millenium development goals, and championed for the right of people to get online – there is the possibility that new regulations passed at WCIT-12 could contradict those efforts. Member states may propose regulations that can make it easier to justify censorship or the disconnection of citizens. These are things that member countries can already do to their people, but having the blessing of international law may make it seem like these kinds of activities are somehow less evil.
In summary: although the United Nations isn’t moving to take over the Internet and regulations passed by the ITU aren’t binding and will most likely never effect you as an individual, there is the possibility that bad governments may use new ITU regulations to justify already terrible behavior. So arm your pitchforks and head over to Google and Access Now, there’s an Internet to protect!
Today is a special day: A Human Right successfully convinced a number of parties to move a transatlantic fiber optic cable from its planned route. It will soon bring Internet access to some 4,200 people on a remote island so remote that Napoleon was exiled there – 1,200 miles from the nearest land mass. This is how we did it:
In January of 2012, we received an enthusiastic e-mail from a gentlemen named Christian Von Der Ropp: “I’m currently in discussions with the government of St. Helena, one of the most remote islands in the world, situated between Southern Africa and Latin America in the South Atlantic. Its population suffers from its isolation: 4,200 people can only get online through a rudimentary and expensive satellite link. I want to change this.”
Of course we were interested, everyone deserves fast and inexpensive Internet access! His message continued:
“In 2012 one of the fastest submarine fibre optic cables, the South Atlantic Express (SAex), will be laid across the South Atlantic. It will connect Cape Town, South Africa with Luanda, Angola and Fortaleza, Brazil. This cable, as planned, will pass St. Helena by a distance of ~500 km. However given it’s Y-shaped route the branch could be moved south without getting significantly longer. This would allow it to land on St. Helena and provide great development opportunities to this small and beautiful island.”
But, there was a problem…
“Unfortunately the company that will build the cable, eFive Pty Ltd of South Africa, has ignored all inquiries to land the cable at St. Helena. I see so many resources being wasted every day and I want to change it. Moving this cable would be so simple and would improve the lives of the people of St. Helena dramatically.”
Christian’s passion was infections, and moving the cable was a winning idea, so we did the natural thing and invited Christian onto the team to build movethiscable.org
The citizens of St. Helena helped us better understand the benefit this cable could provide to them:
“High-speed broadband would be huge for education. Not only could we make better use of online materials, but with affordable broadband teachers could develop their practice from home.”
“I had to leave St. Helena to study. Being 5000 miles away from my family and friends is hard. Not being able to skype with them due to the slow and expensive Internet on St. Helena is even harder.”
Strategy was imperative if we were going to be successful, so we got to work. St. Helena is a British overseas territory, it was vital that the British government was aware of this opportunity – so we brought it to the attention of parliament. On March 13, 2012 we brought the issue to the floor of the House of Commons where we didn’t get much traction.(Full Text)
From there our goal was to create some buzz that would be meaningful to eFive, the company building the cable. We got in touch with the most cosmopolitan magazine for the submarine cable industry, Submarine Telecoms Forum (p. 29), and penned an op-ed highlighting the benefits: “This would be the first time a landing point of a major submarine cable has been selected solely for social reasons.”
At first it seemed like nothing was happening, but slowly the e-mails were coming back with positive answers, and the pieces started to fall in place. We continued our advocacy but it was a waiting game as the details were sorted out.
Today we are proud to announce that the hard work paid off. eFive has announced two potential cable routes on their website, both include a connection for the people of St. Helena.
There is still plenty of work to do for all the parties involved, but we’re thrilled that St. Helena has become a priority and will soon be connected.
It’s incredible to think that with a bit of work, and a lot of e-mails, we were able to physically alter the layout of the Internet solely for the purpose of ensuring everyone is connected. St. Helena is the first small step of many more to come!
Vint Cerf, the inventor of the Internet, recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Internet Access is Not A Human Right.” His argument is straightforward: to equate a technology to “freedom from torture or freedom of conscience” is a mistake – that the Internet “is an enabler of rights and not a right in itself.” He defined human rights as, “the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives…”
Although I appreciate Vint’s brilliance and extraordinary contributions to the Internet, I believe he is mistaken.
Vint’s argument is based on a narrow definition of human rights. Freedom from torture and freedom of conscience are powerful human rights, of a class that Internet access may not belong. The UN Declaration of Human Rights, however, includes a strata of human necessities like: “the right to a standard of living […] including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…” and “the right to rest and leisure…”
Ratified in 1948, the framers of the Declaration couldn’t have dreamed the role the Internet would play in shaping our global society. Snugly fit between the right to have a home, a job, and leisure time it isn’t hard to imagine the right to affordably access the network that unifies all people as equals: the Internet.
Vint describes the Internet as only a technology, arguing, “Internet access is always just a tool for obtaining something else more important.” He believes that to enter a technology into the pantheon of human rights is a mistake as it “will lead us to valuing the wrong things.”
But this is a misconception about what human rights are, since many owe their roots to technologies. Take for example the right to adequate housing, which wouldn’t be possible without technologies that have been developed throughout human history. Technology is required for housing to exist adequately. Other rights like access to clothing, education, and food have all required technologies to enable them.
The potpourri of protocols, wires, and bits that make the Internet are no more special than the hammer and nails used to build a home, and to classify either as a human right would be a sincere mistake. But just as a home is much more than the sum of its parts, so is the Internet: Built on top of the brick and mortar society we call civilization, the Internet is its own unique society that enhances and grants a global perspective to our lives. To access the Internet is to be allowed global citizenship – the ability to collaborate, learn, empathize, and participate globally. This is an incredible feat that inherently enables a number of human rights.
Human rights like access to education and freedom of speech are highly suited to take place online. For example, in Kabul Afghanistan, where hundreds of young Afghani women have been poisoned for attending school and brutalized for expressing themselves, a small women’s only cyber café has opened. Access to the Internet for these women has partially re-enabled those rights, but it has also allowed for something more spectacular to happen: they have joined our digital society, and the digital society welcomed them with open arms. Donors from around the world contributed thousands of dollars to keep the café open and for the continued growth of this grand experiment.
The Internet and its power to enable global citizenry makes it as much a place as any country and as much a community as any village. The term ‘Netizen’ barely begins to describe the camaraderie that emerges across borders, nationalities, genders, and belief systems online. For these reasons and more the United Nations has identified the Internet as “one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century […] for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies.”
Five billion people don’t have access to the Internet. It’s awful that 70% of us remain disconnected from the emerging digital society shaping our physical world. Without access, those individuals don’t have a voice in the process, and the world moves on without them. With it, they can help steer.
Access to food, clothing, housing, and medical care are human rights. The Internet should belong among them.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to be connected.
It’s been quite awhile since we’ve checked in. Only with the holiday lull am I able to take a breath and reflect on all that’s happened in the last few months. Here’s an update!
A Human Right and the United Nations are officially teaming up!
In early December a delegate from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) visited the (new) San Francisco headquarters of A Human Right to explore avenues of collaboration. UN-OCHA’s is responsible for the coordination of relief efforts during international disasters like the recent tsunami in Japan.
The outcome of our meeting was spectacular: A Human Right is helping bolster relief efforts through our latest initiative that we’ve been working on for the last year. We can’t go into much detail about what it is that we’re planning but simply put: we’re taking idle internet, cellular, and fixed wired bandwidth and putting it to work for social and humanitarian causes. We’ll be announcing details soon after we finish up our pilot program. Disaster relief is as well as business development, education, telemedicine, and technology exploration are our core areas of focus.
We are thrilled by our new relationship with the United Nations it’s an honor to be collaborating with them on a multitude of ideas that we will be sharing with you soon!
First Ever A Human Right Friendraiser
To honor the visit of representatives from the United Nations (who flew all the way in from Geneva) we put together a beautiful ‘friendraiser’ and dinner in San Francisco. This friendraiser was designed to bring together some great minds in the Bay area and put them to task thinking about how they could help bring our vision to life. Incredible people from all over the globe flew in to join in on a candid dialog about the next steps A Human Right is taking to address the connectivity issues the world faces and how we can solve them. It was an exhilarating and productive evening.
A big thank you to: Larry Schaadt owner of the Regale Winery for donating the wine, Taylor for opening her home to our guests, Dane from Salt and Honey Catering for donating his time to cook a delicious meal for us, and Guru Khalsa co-founder of Campfire Creative for documenting the evening.
In June A Human Right packed its bags and left Boston for Silicon Valley. We were welcomed with open arms thanks to the lovely people at Rally.org who offered us a place to call home in downtown San Francisco.
They’ve turned the bottom floor of their office into an incubation platform for rockstar non-profits. Terris Güell founder of Studio Güell helped us design our space and donated hundreds of dollars of unused furniture. We are very grateful for his help in getting settled in.
You can visit us, send love letters, or presents to:
A Human Right
144 2nd Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
A Human Right Canada Launches
We are proud to announce that A Human Right has officially started operations in Canada. Colin Doylend, the director of A Human Right Canada and his team have been working closely with the over 600 governments representing some 700,000 people that make up Canada’s indigenous, or First Nations, community. We are trying out a number of models intended to sustainably bridge the divide and provide opportunities for First Nations people. Currently unemployment rates for these groups are greater than 50% and high school graduation rates are below 30%.
The lessons we learn in bringing access to these remote territories will provide us with valuable knowledge which can be applied to other countries. Our vision is to open a branch of A Human Right in every country and we are making major headway thanks to a focused team.
Growing the Advisory Team
In our travels we have managed to pick up some truly incredible people who are lending a hand and guiding us. We are very proud to welcome the following individuals to our advisory team:
David Drucker — Co-Founder, Echostar; Founder, WildBlue Daniel Faber — Former president, Canadian Space Society
Chérif Ghaly — United Nations OCHA Chair, Working Group on Emergency Telecoms & Chief, technical coordination and partnerships Jan King — VP, Qualcomm; VP of Space Technology for STL; Director, Orbital Sciences Patrick Lanthier — Co-Founder/Chairman, Emergency Communications Leadership & Innovation Center (eCLIC) at Carnegie Mellon University-Silicon Valley Tiffany Shlain — Founder of the Webby Awards & Film Maker
We never got around to finalizing our look, but with the help of our excellent graphics designer Sara VanSlyke we are getting a facelift. Meet our new logo:
Soon our website will also be getting an overhaul. We have spent a great deal of time putting together comprehensive slide decks and materials for the wide array of audiences that we interact with. Soon we will be wrapping all that we have learned into an inspiring and a more informative website.
Coming in 2012
Next year is going to be a big one for A Human Right. We will be launching our next initiative which is built around partnerships with leading telecommunication companies, aid organizations, governments, and communities. We’ve been laying the framework and our recent agreement with the United Nations is a tremendous confirmation that we are on the right path.
With the launch of our next initiative we also plan to bring in a few new members to the team to grow our ambassador program and identify leaders who can drive their own connectivity movement in their own country. We will be putting on some awesome new fundraising campaigns in 2012 (attempting to raise half a million dollars) that should grab a lot of attention as well. We have a clear path, and we are in the process of testing out our theories and operationalizing a big vision. We are confident and very excited about what we will be able to accomplish in 2012.
We hope you have a beautiful New Year’s celebration, thanks for joining us in connecting everyone.
Terrestar and its high performance satellite Terrestar 1 has been sold for 1.375 Billion dollars to Dish Network. We endeavored to purchase the satellite through our crowd funded initiative “Buy This Satellite”. Thanks to your support and the audaciousness of the idea A Human Right.org was able to attract global media attention to the connectivity issue. While we did not purchase our bird, the campaign was a tremendous success. This proved to be exceptionally relevant as connectivity has been a huge issue this year due to the many disasters and the civil unrest that has occurred.
The almost $67,000 in funds raised to purchase the satellite is being put to work on a second iteration of the initiative, which takes a slightly different approach to solving the same problem.
With new offices in San Francisco and Vancouver Canada and growing team of volunteers and ambassadors, we’re expanding our operation and continuing to take on the connectivity challenge. Thanks to everyone for all of their help, feel free to drop us a line if you’d like to get involved.
The mission of A HUMAN RIGHT.org and organizations like us has been given tacit approval. A report released on June 3, 2011 by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations declared Internet access a human right. It is our pleasure to learn that the objectives of the United Nations and A HUMAN RIGHT.org are uniquely aligned.
The report detailed the Internet as “one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies.” Given the great power of the Internet, it stands to reason that that there will be those who attempt to corrupt it. Countries that conspire to control the digital dialog will always be at a deficit to the needs of their people and now they have been put on notice: “there should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information via the Internet, except in few, exceptional, and limited circumstances prescribed by international human rights law.” The UN stressed, “the full guarantee of the right to freedom of expression must be the norm, and any limitation considered as an exception, and that this principle should never be reversed.”
The UN report outlined how several member states have already recognized Internet access as a right: “The parliament of Estonia passed legislation in 2000 declaring Internet access a basic human right. The constitutional council of France effectively declared Internet access a fundamental right in 2009, and the constitutional court of Costa Rica reached a similar decision in 2010. Going a step further, Finland passed a decree in 2009 stating that every Internet connection needs to have a speed of at least one Megabit per second (broadband level).”
Access to the Internet was described as a tool that “facilitated economic development” and hammered home the simple truth that ensuring Internet access protects other human rights, “Unlike any other medium, the Internet enables individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders. By vastly expanding the capacity of individuals to enjoy their right to freedom of opinion and expression, which is an “enabler” of other human rights, the Internet boosts economic, social and political development, and contributes to the progress of humankind as a whole.”
The report emphasized the importance of a continued effort to bridge the digital divide urging that “ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States” in order to “make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all segments of population.”
A HUMAN RIGHT.org has had the privilege of discussing these ideas with the UN in the past. We salute that the UN has chosen to protect the rights of current and future netizens across the globe. This is a tremendous success for all.
The last few months have been a tremendous time of growth for ahumanright.org. I personally have had the privilege to travel all over the world to speak and collaborate with individuals, companies, and organizations as to how access to information can improve the lives of others. My energy, and the energy of the team, has been focused on building momentum behind our core mission. We’ve been busy as of late, allow me to share with you where we’ve been and where we are going.
In November I was invited to give a TEDx talk in Athens Greece. It was a tremendous experience where the ideas we’ve been shaping were greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm. While there we launched the Buy This Satellite campaign– a crowd-funded social endeavor to buy a satellite in order to bring Internet access to developing countries.
I was soon receiving invitations to speak at all sorts of events and share the vision of AHUMANRIGHT.ORG. The Satellite 2011 conference in Washington DC was one of those events and posed the biggest opportunity to make lasting connections in the industry. That was a bit of a challenge as I was by far the youngest speaker by what seemed about 20 years, I also was the only person not wearing a suit. During a panel discussion with leading CEO’s of the industry they had an open mic Q and A session. Seizing the opportunity I (shakily) posed this question for the panel: “Some have characterized the industry as only going after the low hanging fruits- corporate and military contracts which can afford the high price of satellite access. Will there be an expanded focus on the “long tail” of the developing world- the general consumer? Who will take on that challenge?” The response was incredibly genuine as the CEO’s outlined the huge challenges they face in how they have addressed and how they are continuing to address those challenges.
After the panel finished I handed them all “I Bought a Satellite” t-shirts (they actually had!), got their cards, and thanked them for their response. Some day soon I’d like to work closely with them to address the digital divide on a global scale, I think we can do it.
We launched the Ambassador program, now 22 members and growing. The ambassadors are a grassroots movement of individuals spreading the vision of Internet access for all in their local countries.
We connected with the “One Laptop Per Child” foundation and visited their headquarters in Boston MA. They have deployed millions of laptops for children all over the world– we’d like to facilitate getting those laptops online to increase their impact.
I went to Panama and met with leaders who use the Internet to create democratic momentum and spearheaded an initiative to bring Internet access to hospitals in Northern Africa, specifically places suffering from civil unrest.
This has been the most interesting part of our work, as we are still learning the political ramifications of bringing Internet access to places that suffer from a lack of transparency. In some instances it is very much illegal to even discuss the introduction of information services with people on the ground. We continue to keep most of this work under wraps to protect the security of those involved.
Status of the Buy This Satellite Campaign
The Buy This Satellite campaign has been a tremendous success. None of us imagined the amount of support we would receive from the press and the public.
As Internet catalyzed revolutions spread throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa we watched as a simple idea to connect others transformed into an honest discussion about the power of the Internet. Internet access made public the plight of our fellow man. People organized, fundraised, and rallied online in support of those on the ground who gave (and are still giving) their lives for freedom.
When Egypt shut off Internet access for the entire country the whole world was startled that such a thing was even possible. The Buy This Satellite campaign become a rallying point as a potential solution to the problem. TIME Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other news organizations illustrated how our initiative could serve the communication needs of protestors on the ground. During that time we received thousands of requests to volunteer, ambassador applications, and donations. Our story was shared all over the globe on major news outlets. From the BBC, to Norwegian Radio, to the front page of Reddit.com. (TL:DR?)
We raised over $60,000 and the world has been cheering us on. Mind blowing.
Terrestar-1 is still up for grabs but the possibility of an acquisition seems slim. In recent valuation filings the satellite system was said to be worth close to 1 billion dollars due to the recent sale of a similar satellite. This is far from the typical “ten cents on the dollar” satellite sales which we had been modeling the idea on. It has been reported that Terrestar is moving to liquidate it’s assets but it is yet to be seen if Terrestar will actually find a buyer for that price. We are still standing by if any investor would like to step up and build a social business around this incredibly useful piece of space hardware. The Buy This Satellite initiative isn’t over until the future of Terrestar-1 is bought and paid for!
What’s Coming Next
1. WE’RE MOVING IN JUNE! A social-startup incubator has generously offered us a new home in San Francisco. We’ll be working in close proximity to a whole flock of social entrepreneurs with equally ambitious initiatives. Details coming soon.
2. The next initiative. We’re assembling all of the parts of a complex initiative that, if goes as planned, should be unprecedented in scale and impact. We have been building relationships with a number of telecommunications companies, charities, and startup social ventures to create what we hope will become a movement.
3. AHUMANRIGHT Canada!
3. Expansion of the Ambassador Program. We’re still learning how to organize and mobilize people on the ground effectively. Once we have a good handle on the logistical side of things we’ll be putting together a number of local campaigns that everyone can get involved with.
4. New website, new logo, and more effective ways to communicate with you.
Personally I am thankful for the support of all the amazing volunteers who have stepped up to support us, for the in kind sponsorships and all of our amazing donors, for the people in the press who have shared our story across the planet, and most importantly to the team who is making this possible.
The future of the planet is ours to shape, lets ensure everyone has a voice.