37th & The World

37th & The World: Space commercialization, the internet, and the digital divide

December 20, 2023 Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (GJIA) Season 4 Episode 3
37th & The World
37th & The World: Space commercialization, the internet, and the digital divide
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Show Notes Transcript


Exploring space for internet access could transform the lives of half the world. But there's a catch—the benefits might only reach a few, mainly the United States. How can we ensure everyone gets a piece of the space economy? Join us as we discuss the need for global cooperation and the risks of missing out on economic growth with Dr. Eytan Tepper.

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Calla O'Neil:

Hello, you're listening to 37th in the world, the official podcast of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, the flagship academic publication of Georgetown University's Law School of Foreign Service on 37th in the world, we dive into crucial global trends and speak directly with experts working on issues ranging from security to the economy, technology to society, and more. Today's episode is a follow up on an article published in spring find 23 entitled space commercialization is closing the digital divide to expanding global economic inequality by Dr. Aidan Tepper. I'm your host, Carl O'Neill. Lucky to welcome Dr. Tepper to the podcast to discuss the developments in the global digital divide, has space exploration in use and contribute to the expanding or closing of that gap. Audrey Tepper is a research coordinator and lecturer of space governance at the Graduate School of International Studies of the Valley University, and a visiting assistant professor and director of the space Governance Lab at Indiana University Bloomington. He's also worked for the Bank of Israel and the Israeli Foreign Trade Administration, resolving issues related to international trade and cooperation. Audrey Tepper, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I would love to start off by giving the audience some context for our conversation. Back in the spring, you wrote an article discussing the expansion of broadband internet assured by the rising space economy, can you define for us what space based broadband internet is, and what makes this communication revolution is so significant? Both

Eytan Tepper:

both the internet is here for a while now. But what is different this time around with companies like installing which is which belongs to Space X, and also one web. One web is that it's a constellation of mega satellites orbiting relatively low, which means they provide unlike previous service that was slow and expensive, let's say this one is fast and affordable. end What is important about them is that they can provide because it is a space based in the you don't need the infrastructure on the on the ground, they can provide it anywhere on Earth. And right now half of Earth's population does not have access to broadband internet. So this is a potential revolution. This is one of the things that I was referring to in this article. And more generally, I was talking also about commercial space activities. Broadband Internet is one of them. But there are also many other space activities. It is a new sector. And it is expected to bring a lot of wealth and the end the article was wondering where is all this wealth going to go? So

Calla O'Neil:

while expanding Internet access sounds like a great thing, you also discuss its potential implications on the digital divide. Can you give us your thoughts on the effect that space exploration will have on the gap between developed and developing nations and how participating countries benefit from the space sector, while other countries or minority groups may be left behind?

Unknown:

Yeah, true effects going in different direction. The first one is you have the potential to close the digital divide. As I mentioned, that half of our population does not have access to broadband internet, if they will have access and Starlink is already rolling out. In many places, this will be able to provide a few billion people access to internet with everything that includes it. access to internet might be even recognised as new human rights. And anyway in the discussions, it was clear that access to broadband Ethernet is also access to education to a work opportunity and to an end to many other things. So this is a positive things. Potentially it could serve all people on Earth, but in practice, some countries might block it in their territory. China already expressed its reluctance to have Starlink in its borders, just because they they like to monitor the content. So, it might end up not be available in certain areas. If if the local government blocks that this is the first thing and this is a good part that bringing internet to people who are currently under served. On the other hand, it is expected that the that the space sector will be very profitable and will bring A lot of wealth, something like the high tech sector but potentially even much more. But this worse of course will not be distributed evenly, it will go to a handful of leading spacefaring nations. And since we're talking on commercial space, there is one nation that has most of the of the commercial space activities and will end up probably receiving all the benefits which is the US almost like similar to the high tech sector where US is dominant. This is also the situation when you're talking about space activities. The article shows data, we built two original data sets, all the organisations all over the world they are all the space organisation and the data is very clear, it is concentrated commercial space is overwhelmingly concentrated within the US.

Calla O'Neil:

So while you describe the US as the clear front runner in space commercialization, other countries such as UAE and Luxembourg have been particularly ambitious in pursuing space commercialization as well. As you discussed in your paper. Can you tell us some lessons that can be learned from these two countries in terms of what it takes to accomplish successful Space Exploration and Use

Unknown:

these two countries are a very successful example to what you can do and even in a very short span of time me, if I remember right, the UAE space agencies around only from 2014 So, not even a decade they they already sent the astronauts and rovers now, it is true that those two countries are a quite rich countries. So, you might say that this example is is not good for countries that are not so rich. But what is important about those two examples, they could not have the answer alone not in such a short span of time and maybe not even in in a longer span of time. They could do what they did only because they had close cooperation with a major spacefaring nation in in this case, they the US and the lesson for other countries is that if you want to do space activities today, there is a shortcut, which is probably also the only way is to partner with one of the leading spacefaring nations countries who who do not have the financial means of Luxembourg and UAE can can can still do that. They will achieve less but they will be able to achieve many things and in this context is important to remember that many leading spacefaring nations offer also financial support whether they do it to who from courtesy to help other nations or or maybe also for geopolitical purposes or soft power whatnot but the option exist and within China do it us do it. All this to say that any country almost any country in the world, if it puts its its mind to it and resources as much as they have, they can undertake space activities, but if and only if they partner with a leading spacefaring nation.

Calla O'Neil:

Thank you for that insight. Now, I'd love to shift into a conversation on current events. Spacebase Internet has the potential to bypass national regulations and censorship, spring conflict between commercial space companies and restrictive governments. International regulators have recently called for Starlink satellite internet provider to disable its terminals in Iran since the company did not receive authorization from Iranian authorities, what is the situation tell us about the challenges of closing the digital divide even as technology advances, now

Unknown:

that we have this technology, it is technically or if not now, in a few years, it will be possible to for everyone on Earth to have their broadband internet and those who will not be able to to have that it will be because their own governments are blocking that. And the only reason that their governments will do if that is because they want to control the information that their citizens get. They basically want to censor information that is not convenient to them. So it will be another case where any SIP bans are being harmed by their own government in terms of the regulation I'm not sure. I I think that uh The situation is is not as clear as some try to portray it. Because this is a new case that is different from the other regions that we've had before. So it is not clear that Iran can can legally demand that. And I said it because it is important, I think that legal aspects should be verified. And if countries do not have the legal right to block the internet, I think we might consider ignoring their request, if this request does not come to benefit their citizens out only to harm them, I understand that it might also seem paternalism and I know there are ethical issues that we cannot get into now. And it is definitely not a simple answer, yes or no, but I think this is something that we should look into. After all, freedom of information is already a recognised human rights. It's in the in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. So we need to take that also into consideration. Finally,

Calla O'Neil:

I'd like to end by looking towards the future. What is the future look like in space commercialization? what impacts do you expect to see globally,

Unknown:

it seems like the commercial sector is gradually taking the lead in traditional sectors, but also in creating totally new sectors like broadband internet, like space tourism. Jeff Bezos, from Amazon is planning to do manufacturing in outer space. So the private sector is more and more taking the lead in in many activities. It doesn't mean that governments do not have a role. For example, a NASA is not just doing its own activities, but it's but also actively supporting the the commercial sector. And this is part of the policy that began in 2010. So it is official policy also that the NASA will help the commercial sector. And I think we're we will see more new services, new technologies, more money being made in the sector, and like we saw in high tech, we will see that it will flow work to where it is easier and best in many terms to do so. Which is the US and I'm saying it as an as an ops observation. One might like it or not, but this is where it is heading. And even more so than in the high tech because when you talk about space, activities, there are barriers that because it is space, and it is more complicated, and launch is very complicated, since there are more barriers to start a space company than then to do a high tech companies. So you're more dependent of a country that has the infrastructure and has the available money for investment and whatnot. So I think like there is Silicon Valley, in the US we will see a space Valley or maybe a few of those. Hopefully other countries will partner with leading spacefaring nations so they will be able to so also other countries will be able to enjoy the financial and the other opportunities.

Calla O'Neil:

This was 37th and The World, the official podcast for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. Please be sure to subscribe and leave a comment and rating on whichever streaming platform you use. To support the podcast. You can click the link in this podcast description that says support the show. To read other insightful interviews and articles, please check out gujiya.georgetown.edu