The Lede, Friday, March 30, 2018
By David Royse
There’s some very big internet news to report today. You know the internet – kind of important anymore, right?
It’s pretty much a part of the fabric of how we do things now – almost hard to figure out how we did things before it came along.
That’s why it’s strange that this story has gotten so little attention in much of the media.
Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission approved a request by Space Exploration Holdings (better known as SpaceX, even better known as the Elon Musk company that shot a sports car up into orbit). The request the FCC approved was to provide broadband service in the USA using satellite technology.
The USA part is only because that’s the FCC’s jurisdiction – SpaceX fully intends to put up a “constellation” of satellites that allow it to provide internet access around the globe. Internet for all.
From the FCC statement on approval: “This is the first approval of a U.S.-licensed satellite constellation to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.” SpaceX is the first U.S.-licensed company, but others are working on this too – and the FCC has already approved plans by foreign teams called OneWeb, Space Norway and Telesat (Canada) that promise, as the FCC notes, “to expand Internet access, particularly in remote and rural areas across the country.”
The plan is to put more than 4,000 satellites in orbit that would mean internet connectivity could basically be beamed into just about every corner of the earth.
Musk can be a bit of a self-promoter (a bit? I hear many of you say) but he’s been unusually quiet on this project. I think it may be his most important.
One of his competitors, Greg Wyler of OneWeb, which is aiming for the same goal, does do a good job of explaining what these projects are trying to do in this video.
Also, a side note.
One of the FCC Commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel, (who writes like a real person, not a technocrat), included a side note in the FCC’s approval of the SpaceX plan, noting that the regulatory rules covering space are a bit outdated. They weren’t developed in a time when just any random millionaire could come along and launch a space ship – yet that’s kind of where we are.
From Rosenworcel’s note, which is included in the record of the FCC’s decision on the SpaceX application
“A next-generation space race is unfolding. We are seeing new commercial models, players, and technologies coming together to pioneer a wide range of cool satellite services. This is undeniably exciting.
“However, this rush to develop new space opportunities requires new rules. Despite the revolutionary activity in our atmosphere, the regulatory frameworks we rely on to shape these efforts are dated. They were designed for a time when going to space was astronomically expensive and limited to the prowess of our political superpowers. No one imagined commercial tourism taking hold, no one believed crowd-funded satellites were possible, and no one could have conceived of the sheer popularity of space entrepreneurship.”
Two things she says need to be addressed: policy makers need to think about orbital debris and the FCC needs to be involved in space regulation because of its control of the airwaves, and its licensing of satellite service.
Our Lives in Two Years
Alexis Madrigal pointed out in a story this week in the Atlantic that only a few thousand people right now have ever ridden around in a car without a driver.
“Up to a million people could have that experience every day in 2020,” Madrigal wrote. “Waymo is telling the world: Get ready, this is really happening. This is autonomous driving at scale, and not in five years or 10 years or 50 years, but in two years or less.”
The autonomous car industry is moving forward despite bad press from an accident during testing recently that killed a pedestrian in the Phoenix suburbs. Of course, many, many more are killed by cars with drivers everyday, which is one of the main points of the technology.
But the fatal accident does raise a point the law hasn’t really dealt with yet – fault in autonomous accidents. How do you sue a robot? Uber owned the car that killed the woman in Arizona, and it has already reached a settlement with her family.
A story in FastCompany points out this week that the law’s murky on responsibility in accidents involving autonomous cars and states are coming up with different plans for dealing with the situation, which of course, will arise again.
If you’re a regular reader you may remember the story we mentioned a couple days ago about teixobactin, the material found in soil that may prove to be the next generation of antibiotic, the answer to our fears that the superbugs have won because new emerging bacteria are making our old antibiotics obsolete.
Here’s a brief follow – if you weren’t sufficiently concerned about emergent bacteria. Some poor chap in England has returned from Asia with super gonnorhea.
I’m not sure what your list of greatest fears looks like, but there’s at least one public health official who says this is “our greatest fear.”
OTHER HEALTH NEWS
Walmart is in preliminary talks to buy Louisville-based healthcare company Humana Inc., the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
NOTES FROM THE AGE OF DISRUPTION