Author: Connor Haffey

As a species, humans have progressed rapidly over the last half-century towards a world of information. The rise of the internet has changed the expectations and ability of learning and communicating. Although this change does seem ubiquitous, a large portion of the population still lacks consistent internet access. This discrepancy lies in the profitability and feasibility of building ground infrastructure for wireless broadband. Now, however, with the rise of the commercial space industry partnering with nations throughout the globe, orbital satellites in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), Mid-Earth Orbit (MEO), and Geospatial-Earth Orbit (GEO) have the capacity to revolutionize internet accessibility. In accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 17, Partnerships, countries and private companies are at a precipice to expand internet accessibility.



The interconnectedness of the human world over the last 50 years has changed society immensely; from the way we do business to the way we learn. The online capabilities of technology have connected humans into their own complex ecosystem. Although, at times, this may seem like a global transition, there are still many battling to find connectivity in this digital era. In fact, by the end of 2019, 12.9% of the global population were completely uncovered or otherwise under-served (ie: 2G connectivity or lower) with regards to accessing the internet (del Portillo et al., 2021). This disparity is incredibly concerning considering the resources that internet access provides. The most prudent reason for this discrepancy in global connectivity is due to the lack of communication infrastructure; particularly in rural regions of the globe (Kotze, 2019, Handbook of Small Satellites 1-22). Communication infrastructure can be anything from above-ground or under-ground copper cables, fibers, or wireless technologies.

    As the transition to digital learning, business, and work has progressed over the past few decades, and especially this past year, the infrastructure for broadband has remained mostly through terrestrial cables and towers that require large amounts of land and towers. This creates an affordability issue when trying to connect to rural areas and/or harsh terrains. Thus, an emerging and promising innovation is seen in the space sector through satellite constellations. These satellites vary in size and the constellations can range from a string of a few satellites to thousands (del Portillo et al., 2021; Kotze, 2019, Handbook of Small Satellites 1-22). In a recent comprehensive study comparing broadband capabilities of fiber optics, aerial platforms, and satellites, del Portillo and his team found that satellites in Geospatial Earth Orbit (GEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) would be the best long-term, economically viable method to extend coverage to these underserved areas of the world (del Portillo et al., 2021). But even with this boost in affordability, many areas that are uncovered may still be unable to afford the costs without outside help. In order to squelch this potential discrepancy, partnerships between governments and commercial companies will be pivotal in pursuing global internet coverage.



Not only can these potential partnerships between companies and nations benefit people through the final product of satellite broadband, but even the highly-collaborative venture of launching satellites into space can bring large amounts of income to countries willing to work with these private actors. For example, OneWeb, a satellite constellation company, filed for bankruptcy after failing to raise enough capital for manufacturing and launches. However, they were bailed out after the government of the United Kingdom made arrangements to buy the company(SpaceNews 2020). Buying a whole company is clear evidence of the UK’s interest in the company’s success and, thus, the potential of this company’s venture. Additionally, after emerging from bankruptcy, OneWeb has launched 182 of their intended 648 satellites using Russian Soyuz rockets out of French Guiana, Kazakhstan, and Russia (Arianespace Press Release, 2021). This type of partnership for a logistical foundation in such an important sector is a great example of the strides being made to truly revolutionize internet accessibility. 

This interest in expanding web services to satellite-based arrangements is gaining global attention. In 2018, Uganda partnered with Intelsat to create a pilot program that aims to bring efficient and cost-effective satellite internet to two communities in order to determine the commercial feasibility of this service. Uganda aims to have a minimum of 4G broadband speeds available to all of its citizens within the next few years (Uganda National Broadband Policy, 2018). As constellation companies, such as OneWeb, Starlink, Kuiper, Eutelsat, Intelsat, Viasat, and many more, continue to launch their army of satellites, governments are beginning to ensure such technology can benefit their citizens. 

The most important way for countries to promote these partnerships’ benefits to their citizens is through subsidies. Such subsidies can come in many forms, whether it is covering a portion of the internet cost itself, the infrastructure (such as a satellite dish) required by the customer to purchase or the installation of that infrastructure. Recently, Germany’s Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure announced that Germany was preparing to subsidize up to 500 Euros per household for the purchase of the infrastructure that was necessary for compatibility with a satellite broadband company’s service (WSJ, 2021). This type of subsidy from a major space-faring nation should pave the way for other countries to genuinely consider these subsidies in order to assist their citizens living in rural areas that may not be able to afford the service otherwise.



Recognizing the advantage that nationwide broadband internet services can have on a country’s education, business, and welfare systems is crucial to understanding the necessity of partnerships and subsidies between the governments, private companies, and citizens. And any market analyst knows that when a sector grows as rapidly as the satellite internet industry has grown, there is huge potential. The partnerships made in this sector will bolster a broader access to the internet around the world which, in turn, can bolster a more equitable world.



Arianespace. (2021, April 26). Flight ST31: Arianespace successfully deploys OneWeb constellation satellites. ArianeGroup Press Release.

del Portillo, I., Eiskowitz, S., Crawley, E. F., & Cameron, B. G. (2021). Connecting the other half: Exploring options for the 50% of the population unconnected to the internet. Telecommunications Policy, 45(3), 24.

Foust, J. (2020, November 20). OneWeb Emerges from Chapter 11 with New CEO. SpaceNews.

Kotze, C. J. (2019). Ground Systems to Connect Small-Satellite Constellations to Underserved Areas. Springer, Cham.


Pancevski, B. (2021, June 1). Elon Musk’s Starlink Could Get Boost From German Subsidies. Wall Street Journal.

Pelton, J., & Madry, S. (Eds.). (2019). Handbook of Small Satellites. Springer International Publishing.