Since 2010, the Benton Foundation and the New America Foundation have partnered to highlight telecommunications debates from countries outside the U.S.
Stories from Abroad
The US Department of the Treasury is exempting telecommunications services from ongoing sanctions against Russia. The move, confirmed April 7, follows requests from advocacy groups who feared a disruption would cut off Russian activists’ access to the outside world. It may not, however, cause companies that voluntarily cut off access to restore it.
After Russia launched its invasion, Ukrainian officials pleaded for Elon Musk’s SpaceX to dispatch their Starlink terminals to the region to boost Internet access. “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route,” Musk replied to broad online fanfare. Since then, the company has cast the actions in part as a charitable gesture.
Russia is making progress in creating a “splinternet,” a move that would effectively detach the country from the rest of the world’s internet infrastructure. Such a move would allow Russia to control conversations more tightly and tamp down dissent—and it's getting closer by the day. Controlling a country’s internet requires two major components: separating yourself from the rest of the world, and cutting access from within. But both are harder for Russia than China because it’s starting from a comparatively open internet, after years of engagement with the West.
As Russia makes preparations to possibly disconnect from the global internet in a bid to control the narrative around the invasion of Ukraine, Lantern is rushing to lay the final pieces of an unbreakable network that the Kremlin won’t be able to take down. The company has seen staggering growth inside Russia in the last four weeks for its app that allows users to bypass restrictions the Kremlin has put in place on platforms like Facebook, Twitter
As Russian artillery fire rained on Mariupol, Ukraine, the largest mobile-network operator in the country said repair crews worked to keep its last working cellular tower in the city from going offline for a few extra days.
Since 2011, the KA-SAT satellite has helped homeowners, businesses, and militaries across Europe get online. However, as Russian troops moved into Ukraine during the early hours of February 24, satellite internet connections were disrupted. A mysterious cyberattack against the Viasat-owned satellite’s ground infrastructure—not the satellite itself—plunged tens of thousands of people into internet darkness. Almost a month after the attack, the disruptions continue. Thousands still remain offline in Europe and companies are racing to replace broken modems or fix connections with updates.
Russia’s disconnection from the online services of the West has been as abrupt and complete as its disconnection from real-world global trade routes. The moves have raised fears of a “splinternet” (or Balkanized internet), in which instead of the single global internet we have today, we have a number of national or regional networks that don’t speak to one another and perhaps even operate using incompatible technologies. That would spell the end of the internet as a single global communications technology—and perhaps not only temporarily.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit developing countries the hardest and recovery is continuing to accentuate the growing digital divide. When populations have affordable access to the internet and the skills to use it, digital adoption opens endless possibilities for a more resilient recovery. Digital technologies can supercharge inclusive growth but we must accelerate investment, so they reach their full potential. Governments need to make connectivity affordable, reliable, and accessible by all. In addition, people must have the skills they need to use digital technologies.