Belarusians are asking the Elon Musk SpaceX company to try it out Starlink satellite system in their place after CEO tweeted to offer sympathy and support.
The internet outages coincided with a fourth day of protests across Belarus following a controversial presidential election Sunday when Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected to a sixth term in office.
Musk’s tweet was in response to an initiative to highlight the plight of Belarusians, posted along with a video of incidents of police brutality against protesters. Musk replied, “I̵7;m sorry to hear that. What can we do to help?”
His response was greeted with a flood of requests to place Starlink – a constellation of over 500 satellites that promised internet access from almost anywhere on earth. The mega-constellation will begin beta testing later this summer.
A petition in change.org, urging Musk to choose Belarus as the first issue of the constellation test is approaching its 7,500-vote target. However, SpaceX needs to find out the location specifics for the first round of testing.
Centralized Internet of Belarus
Belarus presents a strong case as a test case for Starlink. Its completion online is widely believed to be imposed government. Experts have warned that a centralized infrastructure (as is the case in Belarus) makes shutting down the internet much easier – a measure already used in India, Pakistan, Turkey and other countries in times of civil unrest.
But Lukashenko has denied responsibility, blaming interruptions for widespread denial of service (DDoS) attacks from outside, without presenting evidence.
Interruptions mean that the only routes for Belarusians to access the Internet are through standard satellite connections, or by custom-designed connection routes through neighboring countries that use mobile service and WiFi.
Privacy browser Tor, and the service of Canadian representative Psiphon, have both seen a increase in recent activity from Belarus, as people use alternative methods to access accurate news and information.
But circumventing the restrictions requires technical skills that most Belarusians do not have, and current satellite services are expensive.
In contrast, the constellation Starlink is designed as one low cost internet service, for areas with weak connections. Musk’s bold goal is to bridge the digital divide.
Belarusians are now desperate to know if he can even block a political split, and he could have some influence.
Earlier this year the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belarus invited Elon Musk to test his autonomous taxi service in Belarus. He has not yet responded to the request.
Lukashenko has also said that he was given a Tesla by Musk – a claim the landowner denies.