Belarusians petition Elon Musk’s company SpaceX to test it Starlink satellite system in their country by CEO tweeted to offer sympathy and support.
Internet disruptions have coincided with a fourth day of protests across Belarus, following a controversial presidential election on Sunday in which Aleksandr Lukashenko was re-elected to a sixth term in office.
Musk’s tweet was in response to an initiative to highlight the situation of Belarusians, which was posted along with a video of incidents of police brutality against protesters. Musk replied, “Sorry to hear that. What can we do to help? “
His response was met with a flood of requests to deploy Starlink ̵
A petition it change.org, which is asking Musk to choose Belarus as the constellation’s first test case, is approaching its target of 7,500 votes. However, SpaceX still has to unveil site specifications for the first test round.
Belarus’s centralized Internet
Belarus presents a strong case as a test site for Starlink. It is common that its blackout is government imposed. Experts have warned that a centralized infrastructure (as is the case in Belarus) makes it much easier to shut down the Internet – a measure already used in India, Pakistan, Turkey and other countries in times of civil unrest.
But Lukashenko has denied responsibility and has blamed downtime on distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks from abroad without providing evidence.
Power outages mean that the only options for Belarusians to access the Internet are via standard satellite uplink, or with specially designed connecting routes via neighboring countries using mobile service and WiFi.
Privacy browser Tor and Canadian proxy service Psiphon have both seen one increase in recent activity from Belarus, as people use alternative methods to access accurate news and information.
But circumventing the restrictions requires tech skills that most Belarusians do not have, and current satellite services are prohibitively expensive.
In contrast, the Starlink constellation is designed as one cheap internet service, for areas with poor connections. Musk’s bold goal is to bridge the digital divide.
Belarusians are now desperate to know if he can also bridge a political divide and he can have some leverage.
EEarlier this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus invited Elon Musk to test his recently announced autonomous taxi service in Belarus. He has not yet responded to the request.
Lukashenko has also said that he got a Tesla from Musk – a claim that the knowledgeable entrepreneur denies.