Students from London’s Royal College of Art and Imperial College have devised a system that provides access to news coverage via a portable satellite modem during a government-enforced internet shutdown.
The subscription-based service, called Fallback, was developed by Khulood Alawadi, Yi-fan Hsieh, Bahareh Saboktakin and Qifan Zhao.
It allows members to pre-select the publications they read, so that during a shutdown their output can be encrypted and transmitted to them via satellite.
Using the Portal receiver, this information can then be decrypted and read on any Wifi-enabled device via a simplified user interface (UI).
Restricting or entirely disabling internet access has become an increasingly common tactic used by governments in a bid to control citizens and stunt their ability to organise and stay informed in times of social unrest.
Last year saw the highest number of internet showdowns in recorded history, with 122 major national or regional blackouts.
“I lived through the 2009 shutdown in Tehran myself,” Saboktakin told Dezeen.
“And we also interviewed people that had experienced them, who talked about feeling scared and isolated,” she continued. “You don’t know what’s happening a few blocks from you, let alone in a nearby town. Complete lack of access to real-time news is a traumatic experience and makes you feel completely out of control, unable to do anything about it.”
To mitigate this, the Fallback system relies on a forecasting algorithm, which the team claims is able to predict which countries or regions are most at risk of a shutdown.
This algorithm factors in the existing level of censorship in a region, as well as the complexity of the local internet infrastructure, since the amount of different providers directly speaks to how feasible it is to disable the whole network.