A Human Right: Kosta Grammatis Aims to Spread Online Wealth
Kosta Grammatis has worked for private spaceflight firm SpaceX and helped a filmmaker become a cyborg by installing a camera into a prosthetic eye. Now the young engineer has taken aim at the challenge of spreading free Internet access around the world.
While that may not sound as futuristic as walking with cyborgs or launching a private rocket to the International Space Station, ensuring Internet access means much more than simply allowing netizens to stream endless YouTube videos of Lady Gaga. Internet access can allow a young African inventor to Google existing windmill designs rather than having to "reinvent the wheel." It can reshape the economic destinies of entrepreneurs and open the door to political freedoms for entire countries.
Toward that end, Grammatis has created the humanitarian organization A Human Right with the goal of spreading the online wealth. One of their first projects, called Buy This Satellite , aims to purchase and move existing satellites to new parking spots where they can provide telecommunications services to the developing world.
InnovationNewsDaily caught up with Grammatis to talk about free Internet as a human right, as well as how he hopes to enable Internet access around the world. (The following interview has been edited and condensed.)
InnovationNewsDaily: How do you explain your focus on bringing Internet access to developing countries?
Kosta Grammatis: The No. 1 question I get asked is: "Why are you devoting all these resources to bringing Internet access to these places when people need food, water, etc.?" I agree that there are plenty of places on this planet where Internet is the last priority. But there are a number of places in between, where people are living sustainable lives, but the [Internet] infrastructure is not there yet. Let's not generalize across the entire planet. That's my first rule.
Rule No. 2, the Internet in and of itself can act as a tool for development. In Papua New Guinea, Prime Minister Michael Somare has made it his No. 1 priority to bring Internet access to his country in order to connect government agencies. They can't even coordinate across different regions because the amount of time they need to talk is ridiculous. You can use the Internet to develop faster.
That's essentially my argument. You need to lay down the Internet infrastructure so that people can learn from the global knowledge available online, apply that to building their communities and grow faster.
InnovationNewsDaily: We talked previously about free Internet access as a human right. Does that issue go beyond the developing world?
Grammatis: There are connectivity issues in every single country, developed and developing, which is something we're trying to address. If you want to be a member of society, you have to have Internet access. Americans who are restricted or limited in their ability to get online cannot participate in the society. I've worked in soup kitchens where homeless people come in with their laptops to check e-mail and look for jobs. Libraries are taking on the role of technical support for people who come in to use their Internet access to pay bills online.
The U.S. has recognized the importance of broadband Internet and pushed for it, but there is something that's missing. It used to be that when people needed information, they could turn on the radio, turn on the TV, and there were always free channels. Advertisements subsidized those channels, but they were free and provided a tremendous public service. I'm talking about the developed world, here.
But free Internet via Wi-Fi networks has only happened at a very small scale. Internet is supposed to be a replacement for TV and radio, but I'm wondering when the Internet as an information service will be freely available.
There was a municipal Wi-Fi push by some U.S. cities, but then the financial crash happened and that just didn't work. I don't really think it's government's job to roll it out. I do think it's government's job to support and foster it.
InnovationNewsDaily: Can you envision at least one country achieving free Internet access for its citizens in our lifetimes?
Grammatis: Absolutely. That goal is not far-fetched. It's actually happening in Panama, because Internet access was a No. 1 campaign issue in their last election. The winning presidential candidate [Ricardo Martinelli] literally campaigned on the platform of free Internet access for the major cities of Panama. They have begun the process of rolling out free Internet in the cities.
InnovationNewsDaily: Having free Internet access can also mean being free of government interference or censorship. How high is that on your agenda?
Grammatis: It's very high on my agenda, and it's important that people are allowed unfettered access to the Internet. Nobody should be messing with it. When Egypt shut off the Internet, it was impossible for Egyptians to reach anyone outside their country. Our vision is to create technologies that are totally decentralized, even more decentralized than what the Internet is now, so that nobody can just turn off access.
InnovationNewsDaily: What is the ideal scenario that would permit the spread of free Internet access around the world?
Grammatis: The ideal scenario for me would be telecommunications companies agreeing that their unused bandwidth can be put to work as a tool for development. And then we help them find effective and productive uses for that bandwidth. I want to create a pool of unused bandwidth that can be utilized at any given moment around the world. Satellite technology would provide the easiest solution in countries which don't yet have the infrastructure.