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Technology Aims to Buy Commercial Satellite for the World's Poor

A new organization has an audacious goal: buying and reconfiguring a communications satellite to bring free, low-speed Internet to the global south. Aims to Buy Commercial Satellite for the World's Poor

TerreStar satellite


A new NGO is attempting to bring affordable Internet to the developing world by buying its own satellite., a Berlin-based non-profit, is bidding for a commercial satellite it can repurpose and use to beam bandwidth. To help make that happen they've recruited the founder of XM Radio, and partnered Deutsche Telekom and the NASA Ames Research Center.

The satellite in question is TerreStar-1, a communications satellite currently operated by the TerreStar Corporation. TerreStar filed for Chapter 11 in October 2010 and is currently embroiled in a complex legal struggle with Sprint Nextel. Ahumanright will solicit $150,000 from online donations, develop a business plan, and purchase TerreStar-1 in cooperation with the government of Papua New Guinea.

A satellite parked in geosynchronous orbit over Papua New Guinea would offer access to portions of South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Siberia, Australia, and Polynesia. Revenues from the sale and lease of orbital slots are already an income source for Papua New Guinea.

In an interview with, founder Kosta Grammatis outlined a complicated scheme: funds raised by selling high-speed bandwidth to communications companies would be reinvested into offering slower bandwidth for free via TerreStar-1. Engineers affiliated with would create an open-source, low-cost modem for less than US$100. Says Grammatis:

Ahumanright is charged with promoting Internet access as a human right. The organization also promotes endeavors that can ensure everyone has a chance to get online. We try to do this in three different ways: Connect with businesses and governments and discuss the creation of a "free" segment to their networks; envisioning our own free network with our friends at NASA; buy[ing] and re-purpose underutilized infrastructure.

Grammatis is a former engineer for Elon Musk's private spaceflight firm, SpaceX. His background is in developing cybernetic cameras. Deutsche Telekom provided his seed funding, while the advisory board includes XM cofounder Noah Samara and Deutsche Telekom CTO Thomas Curran. Ahumanright also gets assistance from the Bertlesmann Foundation, the NASA Ames Research Center and Skadden LLP.

Documents released by Ahumanright are long on rhetoric and short on specifics. Still, its plan is too interesting to ignore. It will require serious funding, but the infrastructure payoff would be enormous.

[Image of TerreStar-1 via TerreStar Corporation]

Follow Neal Ungerleider on Twitter.