Breaking the chokehold on communication

Posted on March 5, 2011  /  2 Comments

In a recent piece in Himal, I summarized the ideas I have been developing on the nation state and its control of telecom networks used by its citizens. The thesis was that in countries above a certain threshold of electronic connectivity, shutting down networks was futile. The regime would fall.

Now here’s a new spin. A proposal to ease the pressure of the Qaddafi’s chokehold:

As a result, democracy demonstrators have had a harder time communicating with one another, while foreign correspondents in Libya have found it nearly impossible to report on events fully.

Colonel Qaddafi and his loyalists, meanwhile, can use the military communication networks they control to counter rebel forces.

Fortunately, there is an easy step the United States and its allies could take to help: deploying cellphone base stations on aircraft or tethered balloons. The calls could then be routed to Navy ships equipped with satellite communications terminals.

Base stations are small and cheap. Indeed, this kind of portable system, though not used, was already available in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and in the years since the hurricane, the equipment has shrunk even further.

Ideally, a commercial cellphone operator would provide direct access to its network, and either the operator, the American government or the international community could foot the bill.

What’s more, establishing such a network would present minimal risk to pilots, who could loiter safely over the Mediterranean and still provide coverage to the coast, where the overwhelming majority of Libyans live and where most of the fighting is.