Global internet gaps prompt calls for a US plan

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Pressure is growing for the US to develop a plan to quickly build internet lifelines for people living in conflict zones or under repressive regimes. The absence of a broadband strategy has led to a reliance on the ad hoc goodwill of private companies, such as Elon Musk's donation of Starlink satellite to provide internet service in Ukraine. Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said that the US needs both the ability to quickly deploy internet networks and surge the production of censorship-circumvention online tools in authoritarian countries. Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-FL) introduced a bill in 2021 that would create a strategic plan to deploy technology capable of rapidly delivering wireless internet anywhere on the planet in times of crisis. However, standing up internet infrastructure in a hostile country is easier said than done for technological and diplomatic reasons. Satellite internet connections require dishes or terminals on the ground — which can be logistically difficult to deliver or risky for the user to be seen with one in an authoritarian country. Beyond the internet infrastructure itself, crackdowns on online freedom around the world have shown the need for anti-censorship and surveillance tools. Thus, there's been bipartisan interest in stepping up funding for US efforts to develop new online tools to support democracy globally through a bipartisan bill led by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) that would authorize roughly $125 million in funding for internet freedom programs and tools. The provision could be included in the annual defense funding bill later in 2022.

1 big thing: Global internet gaps prompt calls for a US plan