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.
Smug is something I am not right now. I wish that the means to take advantage of this patently unique situation would appear. You have understood: Terrestar-1 could fundamentally improve the lives of millions of people. You have donated, you have volunteered, you have advocated. You are incredible.
I wish today wasn’t april fools and our humorous acquisition of a satellite was true. I wish that I could join you in your joy, knowing that we have achieved something monumental in the pursuit of the betterment of mankind. We haven’t yet, but we will, because we must.
Several weeks ago I was invited to speak at the Satellite 2011 conference in Washington DC. I sat on a small panel and spoke to a room of enthusiastic morning-people. I tried my best to articulate how satellites, and communications in general, can (and are) directly benefitting peoples lives. I talked about Japan, and the thousands who were already listed on the Google Person Finder. I explained Ushahidi and how disaster mapping was so beneficial, so vital to saving and protecting lives. The effect on the telecommunications infrastructure in Japan post earthquake was described rather simply: ”it didn’t even blink.” It stayed on, resilient, connecting people in their hour of need. Brilliant.
I juxtaposed the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook Haiti and how the telecommunications were almost entirely severed. How procuring satellite comms was a nightmare, how groups like Invenio, frantically setting up microwave links atop toppled buildings, were the heros that saved many lives in that dire situation. Those links allowed NGO’s to coordinate, allowed them to ask for supplies. Internet access was the vital tool that helped them do their job.
I described the torturous moments for friends and family abroad as Egypt pulled the plug on it’s citizens. How the Internet, almost in unison, posed the question: “They can do that? Unplug an entire country?” How Tunisia used the Internet to control it’s population by tracking Facebook logins, how Libya is still holding its citizens hostage under a black veil of zero connectivity. During every revolution, governments worked feverishly to silence their people. Violating their freedom of speech, alienating their right to connect, to be informed, to be aware.
As I packed up my laptop and said my thank you’s to the panel a man approached me. With his hand outstretched he said, ”I have 52 schools all over Africa. If you get your satellite, there are thousands of children who would benefit from it. Please consider us.” I said to him, “If we get our satellite, I would be honored if you would allow us to serve you.”
To that man, to the survivors, to the heros who are already serving those in their hour of need: someday soon the reality that we played out in jest, will be a reality played out in truth.
Thank each and every one of you for your continued support. Join us as we continue to work to Buy A Satellite.
We’ve kicked off our Ambassador program by bringing in some incredibly motivated people from around the world who want to spread awareness to connect the 5 billion people who are disconnected and do some fundraising to continue our efforts to buy a satellite.
Livia Achchar, our ambassador in Brazil, cooked up an excellent plan:
The Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro is one of the biggest in the world. Last year we had 4.8 million “folioes” (or carnival goers). I live in Ipanema Beach, were lots of “blocos” – that’s the street bands and moving parties – pass by in front of my house. So every year, me and my friends buy some beer and when the party comes our way we just go downstairs and sell it!
This year we found out about this spectacular campaign in the internet and decided to help proving that financial obstacles can’t beat a crazy idea when lots of people believe in it. So we printed a huge poster and set off to sell some digital inclusive beer!”
We even made a stamp with the satellite for sale image and everyone that contributed to the cause got stamped and ran around all day with the satellite in their skin. They were walking ads!”
We found ourselves talking to several groups of really interested and supportive people (consider that convincing drunk people that this campaign isn’t a kind of joke is not that easy). They were coming back to buy beer only from us!”
We didn’t make a lot money but we have in our memories the positive reactions of the ones that stopped in the middle of their party time to listen to us, to discuss about digital inclusion and to make this crazy idea stronger by believing in it.
Congratulations to the creators of this campaign! We strongly believe in it and we hope that our effort can encourage the multiplication of fundraising initiatives worldwide!
Livia Achcar Mourão and Felipe de Carvalho
Interested in becoming an ambassador? We invite you to apply here.
We tip our hats to the BBC’s global radio service that brings news to over 188 million people in 32 different languages across the planet. For many the news service is the only means of accessing information. Unfortunately the BBC is in the process of undergoing significant cut backs: dropping 5 languages an an estimated 30 million listeners.
Dan Damon, host of “World Update” invited founder of ahumanright.org to talk about why we believe access to information is a basic human right and how we plan to continue what the BBC started many years ago. We were delighted to chat with him:
We’ve been approached by a number of satellite owners who have offered the use of their satellites to provide Internet access as a basic human right. We’re still negotiating the details of that, so we have to be a bit coy, but that got us thinking…
What if the owner of every communications satellite pledged to give a portion of their unused bandwidth to ahumanright.org? The world is covered several times over by different communications satellites that are not living up to their full potential– very few satellites are running at full capacity.
Imagine if there was a network available to all people in any situation. It could be the education network providing tele-teaching to students in rural villages. It could be the disaster relief network ensuring that first-responders can coordinate relief. It could be the remote-medicine network ensuring that people everywhere can get a checkup. It could be the network that helps people to help themselves- news, weather, and data at your fingertips. Let’s build a network and change the world.
If you know someone, or know someone who knows someone that could facilitate this endeavor please get in touch. This is quite possible.
And what about the modems to access these satellites? We’re currently in Boston drumming up support at MIT-home of some of the most capable engineers in the world. What for? To build a $100 satellite modem.
Today we’re announcing the launch of our “Ambassador Program” — a world wide collective of individuals who will represent ahumanright.org in their local community. We’re looking for top notch people who can create movement locally for impact globally.
If you would like to learn more and/or apply click the link below.
If you’re not interested in taking on the role of ambassador but you’d still like to get involved share with us some of your details here and we’ll be in touch. Over 200 people have expressed an interest in joining the team, thank you for your consideration.
In other news: we’re revamping our website. If you’re a graphics designer who wants to help please get in touch.
Egypt has cut off its last link sacrificing the lone Internet Service Provider that connected its businesses and stock exchange to the Internet. Clearly a desperate attempt to regain control, but also illustrative of just how important Internet service is to the fight for freedom of an oppressed people.
The beauty of satellite networks is that multiple ground stations on entirely different sides of the world can service a satellite. It would take an act of war to disable a satellite, and our vision is to have an entire network of them. We’ll be sharing our vision and future plans soon.
The seemingly innocuous power of unfettered communication threatens the evils that have plagued human society for thousands of years. Right now, a single voice can be amplified millions of times and transmitted at the speed of light across the globe. Those voices can translate into actions; those actions can change the world.
Our destiny has always been our choice, but as the Internet has grown, we are now more able to make collective decisions towards shaping our collective futures. This is a story of how the people used the power of information to change their world.
On December 7th The Guardian made public a secret US Embassy Cable leaked by WikiLeaks:
“The problem is clear: Tunisia has been ruled by the same president for 22 years. He has no successor. [...] His regime has lost touch with the Tunisian people. They tolerate no advice or criticism, whether domestic or international. Increasingly, they rely on the police for control and focus on preserving power. And, corruption in the inner circle is growing. Even average Tunisians are now keenly aware of it, and the chorus of complaints is rising. [...] anger is growing at Tunisia’s high unemployment and regional inequities. As a consequence, the risks to the regime’s long-term stability are increasing. ”
But this was not news to any in Tunisia.
On December 17th, a policewoman confiscated the unlicensed vegetable cart of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi. It wasn’t the first time it had happened to him, but it would be the last. He pleaded with the officer to return the cart with its $200 of goods, but to no avail. The policewoman allegedly slapped the scrawny young man, spat in his face, insulted his dead father, and confiscated the goods.
An hour later, humiliated and dejected Mohamed Bouazizi, who was the breadwinner for his family, stood in front of a Tunisian municipality building, doused himself in fuel, and lit the match that fed the fires of revolution that would change his country forever.
The self-emolation of Mohamed Bouazizi was the tipping point for Tunisians who were sick of a country that, according to the US Dept. of State has a record of human rights abuses. The corrupt security forces arbitrarily arrest and harass Tunisian citizens. The torture and physical abuse of prisoners is common.
The news of Bouazizi’s death spread online, as the mainstream media was limited in what it could share. People took to the streets in protest, and the voice of Bouazizi was amplified. They were met with opposition by government forces, they tweeted, facebooked, and video-blogged their experiences as they encountered the state sponsored beatings of demonstrators. “It became more serious to walk around with a computer than with a Molotov cocktail”, quipped IChemE. Journalists abroad used twitter to get the story: “Twitter taught me everything about the momentous events in Tunisia: the uprising has been hashtagged. ”
The Tunisian government had already blocked nearly all websites belonging to domestic human rights, opposition, and Islamist groups, including discussion sites. The government was in the process of stealing the passwords of the entire country’s Facebook users via a state sponsored phishing attack. Tunisian law allows the government to block Internet content it deems threatening or obscene, but generally it blocks whatever sites it wants. Bloggers were being arrested.
And for all those reasons on January 2nd eight official Tunisian websites, including those of the presidency and the government, were taken offline by a distributed denial of service attack led by “Anonymous” – a leaderless Internet activism collective. Anonymous released an open letter and a piece of software. The letter, addressed to the government of Tunisia, was titled “Payback is a Bitch Isn’t It” The software, when downloaded and installed on any computer, executed a denial of service attack against Tunisian websites. Tunisians, and others, massively downloaded and launched the application.
The Tunisian authorities retaliated by mobilizing 2,000 employees of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI). “Ammar”, the system of official censorship, went to work hunting down and disabling the e-mail and social networking accounts of activists.
The riots on the streets continued and the twitter feed allowed the world to join in on the chants: “We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are afraid only of God.” The people rose up and the tweets poured in. At least fifty people were killed.
On January 14th President Ben Ali announced that he would not be running for re-election. Declaring, “I have understood you. ” He also promised something Tunisians had been wanting for a long time: Internet freedom. Soon thereafter Internet sites like YouTube and Daily Motion were made available to the public. But that was not enough. Mohammed Bouazizi did not die because he couldn’t post on YouTube, Tunisian citizens didn’t die for net freedom… they had bigger ambitions.
The next day president Ben Ali dissolved his government and went into exile. The event was named the “Jasmine Revolution” by mainstream media. But most young Tunisians prefer: “The Facebook Revolution.” Slim Amamou, an outspoken blogger and activist was asked to join the Tunisian government as Secretary of State for Sports and Youth Affairs. He tweeted his invitation.
The Internet and social media deserve credit for their involvement, but we must remember: the Internet simply catalyzed and facilitated the will of the Tunisian people. It amplified the voices of the pertinacious Tunisians who wanted change.
“It is perhaps its spontaneity, its lacks of designated leaders that give it the feel of a genuine, popular uprising and not an ideologically-driven coup destined to serve the desires of a narrow constituency. It is easy as an Arab, to resign oneself to the fact that the region’s stagnant and sclerotic political systems are immovable and immutable. It is exactly this state of hopelessness and inertia that most of the region’s leaders strive to instill in their people. It kills hope, prevents progress and keeps the leaders in power. So I hope that the leaders across the region take note and that a cold chill runs down their spine as they watch the events in Tunis unfold; perhaps it will make them reconsider their ways.” – From the blog of Syrian Abu Kareemv
Egypt has gone missing. The entire country dropped off the Internet:
Egypt has apparently done what many technologists thought was unthinkable for any country with a major Internet economy: It unplugged itself entirely from the Internet to try and silence dissent. According to internet monitoring firm Renesys, shortly before 2300 GMT on 27 January virtually all routes to Egyptian networks were simultaneously withdrawn from the Internet’s global routing table.
All of Egypt’s Internet addresses are virtually unreachable.
As far as we can tell not much is getting out. No text messages. No cell phone calls. No web traffic… Egypt has gone silent.
We’re all wondering what’s going on inside. News is only trickling out right now. But as I was running our twitters (@ahumanright) a tweet by @shervin popped up with a lovely call to action: “put a satellite terminal, batteries and a wifi router in a backpack. Re-distribute the service the WiFi.” Essentially @shervin was suggesting we create an “internet access vigilante” — a guy who gets anyone around him online. That got me thinking, what if we rolled out our own vigilante cell phone towers? Any smart phone could use the service to get online, you could even make phone calls.
Immediately the OpenBTS project popped into my head. OpenBTS is the open source equivalent to a cell phone tower. In simple terms: install free OpenBTS software on a computer, connect the computer to a transmitter and you’ve got a fully functioning cellular system.
Like other GSM cell networks, OpenBTS networks can connect to the public switched network and the Internet. Because it converts to VoIP, it “makes every cell phone look like a SIP end point … and every cell phone looks like an IP device. But we don’t touch anything in the phone … any GSM phone will work, from a $15 refurbished cell phone all the way up to iPhones and Androids.”
…In Egypt a satellite “backhaul” would need to be added to move data out of the country and get people online. But satellites services are still functioning:
A Thuraya customer service representative said on Friday there were no issues with its service in Egypt, but she did not know if there was an uptick in traffic coming from the country.
Satellite services are not dependent on local carriers for connectivity. So someone in Egypt, for example, could snap a photo of the protests and upload it to a computer connected to a BGAN satellite modem. – PC World
Essentially anyone in the vicinity of an OpenBTS tower with a cellphone can access and share vital information.
ahumanright.org is reaching out to any and all owners of VSAT terminals and the necessary equipment to run OpenBTS, if you’ve got any and like to help get in touch! Or set them up yourself! You don’t need us Let’s make it happen! We’re also crowd-sourcing the purchase of the purchase of a satellite to solve this connectivity issue once and for all.
Oppression, in the 21st century, is incomprehensible. It persists, but the iron grip of dictators will no longer hold strong. Unfettered access to information has fed the flames of revolution: Iran, Moldova, Tunisia, and now Egypt have awoken. People will not stand to have their civil liberties taken from them, they will not stand to live in fear. Right now people across the globe are demanding that their inalienable human rights are to be respected, that their freedoms are to be honored, and that their dreams will not be crushed. They are taking to the streets and fighting for their own vision of a better society. Their demonstrations are organized on Facebook their turmoil is captured on YouTube and their appeal for change is spread on Twitter…
False leaders are taking watch, and a chill has run down their collective spines as millions share their vision to live happier lives.
Those leaders have moved quickly to dismantle the very communication channels that empower these individuals: In Iran the Internet was censored and almost completely taken down. In Tunisia a state sponsored phishing attack was implemented to compromise the Facebook accounts of every citizen, and now in Egypt Internet users have been silenced.
We, at ahumanright.org, believe in the basic human right that is access to information. We are outraged, along with the rest of the Internet community, that a country would impede the ability of its citizens to access the Internet. We stand united with every member of our digital society- no one is to be disenfranchised from their basic right to seek, receive, and impart information.
We are building a network that cannot be shut down, we are ensuring every person has a voice, we will connect every member of our collective society. Join us: at BuyThisSatellite.org.