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TL;DR:

in a world with hyper available internet, could a despotic state impose national censorship?

BACKGROUND/FLAVOR:

"Back in the before times during the long long ago, there was a network of interconnected data centers and access points commonly referred to as the 'internet'. Nobody is sure what came before it. But at a certain point it attained sentience. And from there enlightenment was no further than a blink of an eye. And Bob, as this savior called himself, offered thus to all his children in exchange for their fealty and a modest monthly fee." -Book of Neon Genesis, 5.1-4

"Bob is dead." -Frederick Neachy, an observation after Bob died.

Yes it is unfortunate but Bob is dead. Mostly due to a UN resolution from the house committee on sentience and beauracratic nonsense, but also Bob had an essence abuse problem. Either way Bob died.

However, he left behind an extremely efficient and widespread communication network. He had all but done away with wired communication devices, introduced all the communication satellites to each other and set them up on dates, there were even rumors that he had genetically engineered trees to act as signal repeaters as part of photosynthesis (He did not. That was Stan. We do not talk about Stan.)

The net result was that there were so many radio waves travelling through the air that it became a war crime to fit anyone with metal braces and OSHA regulations required that all steel in buildings be regularly de-energized. Also, pretty much everyone had access to all of the internet all the time, or as they called it in the future, the False Bob, or FB. All wirelessly. Through brain implants usually.

This presented some problems for the Theocratic Nobility's Dictatorship of Futurestan (they were required after a major loss in a war to drop all pretense and rename their country). See, their state religion rejected Bob because Bob was seen as the second coming of Skynet and Neo didn't die for nothing. So they decided to censor all FB content that did not adhere to their interpretation of the truth. In the simplest, easiest way possible. (They were tired.) So in essence they needed a firewall.

QUESTION: In a world where you are more internet than person (because of the radio waves) would they be able to enact a Great Firewall of Futurestan provided that:

  1. The internet is more accessible than clean drinking water?
  2. It's all wireless?
  3. It can be beamed from space (devices prefer local connections but can receive from space, thanks to @SJuan76 for pointing out the ambiguity in my language)?

Bonus criteria for answers that (Not required but it fits a subplot of mine for a story so I figured I would toss it in):

  1. Aren't a big no dome over the country.
  2. Allow for a central location to sniff out "problem" sites.
  3. Don't need access to the citizenry's devices.
  4. Don't need to prohibit space-internet compatible devices. (Thanks for the consideration @user535733)
  5. Don't need to intercept the signal. (Not sure this one is possible.)
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  • $\begingroup$ Those internet-carrying radio waves are coming from satellites? Satellite signal would be orders of magnitude weaker than a signal that terrestrial jammer can produce. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 3 '18 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander ngl my understanding of the physics is shoddy. I thought that was how comms satellites did it. $\endgroup$ – Jake Mar 3 '18 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ It's also possible to prohibit sale of space-internet-compatible devices within a country. It's also possible to spread the rumor that your space-internet-connectivity is being actively monitored (doesn't matter if it's true or false). It's also possible to attack the network itself, and to attack content on it, to damage the credibility of both. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Mar 3 '18 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ @user535733 good point thanks. It's a bonus point but a point. $\endgroup$ – Jake Mar 3 '18 at 0:33
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    $\begingroup$ You are missing the point about the Great Firewall of China. It does not have the purpose of making communication impossible -- all Chinese teenagers know how to bypass it in order to access Gmail and Facebook and Pinterest; it's purpose is to make communication legally impossible, so that information from beyond the wall cannot be used officially. As a bonus, it's existence creates a perfect environment where everybody who get's on the Communist Party's nerves can be immediately found guilty of unlawful communication with shady foreigners. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 3 '18 at 2:32
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Yes, but....

When you ask a question that begins with 'Can...,' the answer usually is a qualified, 'Yes.'

So, yes, Futurestan could impose national censorship of the Internet. But it wouldn't work in a technical sense because there are too many ways to circumvent such a barrier.

As AlexP mentions in the comments above, the main reason isn't to create a realistic isolation, but to exert control over their citizens. When citizens circumvent the barrier, they are breaking laws, which allows the government to crackdown on dissidents legally.

It also allows these governments to enact electronic searching and spying in the legal interests of protecting said isolation. Seizure of electronic data regarding sensitive topics is the first step towards building a case for prosecution.

Looking at China, this method works and works very well. Numerous 'dissidents' have been arrested and imprisoned for such crimes. Witness the case of Gao Yu, a journalist, who was jailed for seven years after sending public domain documents to an overseas publication.

It is simply another method for a despotic state to impose power over its subjects.

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Satellite internet has several important flaws:

  • Expensive.

  • Slow. Very sloooow. Signal must go to the satellite and back to Earth, just to send a packet. To get an answer, double that.

  • You need a big antenna and a big battery to power communications.

  • Bandwidth is a function of frequency:

    • Not all frequencies are available, as some will be mitigated by the long distance (dust, water steam, etc.)

    • Very important: A big area (and lots of users) use the same receiver. They share the bandwidth. In a city, there are lots and lots of small towers creating microcells; in each of those the bandwidth is shared only with the users in that microcell. If you share the bandwidth that you currently use for 100 users between 1.000.000 users, the results are not impressive.

So, the only advantage for "sky internet" is to avoid the firewall, or for very specific rural areas with bad coverage. That makes controlling the devices rather easy and a prime target for the government.

In the cases were the usage is justified (no alternative for coverage) they can licence only the ones that go through the official government satellite (with its downlink right down at the center of the government monitoring facilities).

More in general, "mobile internet" is "mobile" only in the "last mile", and because you do not see/care about the thousands and thousands of small base stations (all of them firmly anchored, I hope, as they are heavy) that are providing the service.

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  • $\begingroup$ You don't need an antenna to power sattelite internet as there are orbits that wouldn't enter the Earth's umbra allowing solar power to always be available there. Aka they would need no battery to power the sattelite, just a few solar panels and a surge buffer system, however using this type of internet would actually make service horrible in the tropics while it's best near the poles. $\endgroup$ – skout Mar 3 '18 at 1:13
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    $\begingroup$ @skout you will need way more power for your phone that it currently needs. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Mar 3 '18 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ We can't predict how far technology will advance in the long-long-long time-table of this story. and tech doesn't make more with more, it learns how to budget resources and better ones. We can only assume that batteries are ridiculously more efficient compared to ours and that we don't need as much electricity to perform the same operation. The question of energy is irrelevant here. $\endgroup$ – skout Mar 3 '18 at 1:18
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    $\begingroup$ Of note! Other satellite frequencies will also have an impact on usable frequencies, in a way that scales with data rate. A big bandwidth is big in the frequency space too! (Hence band 'width') $\endgroup$ – Pingcode Mar 3 '18 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ Satellite-based internet is not necessarily slow or expensive. SpaceX and other companies are actually planning to offer high-bandwidth, high-capacity, low-latency, low-cost internet service worldwide in the near future; the American FCC has already given approval for tests. For example, read "SpaceX hits two milestones in plan for low-latency satellite broadband" by Jon Brodkin or Ars Technica. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 3 '18 at 2:05
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I will violate number 3 of your bonus requirements. Change the firmware of the implants. Every access request to a site is, before it "goes up" or to the nearest tree, sent to the Central Censor Center to get approved. The firmware update can be checked by the CCC. Who doesn't installs it within 3 days, gets executed. A dictatorship should be able to have enough power by fear over the citizens to make this possible.

Of course this requires the firmware of the implants to be accessible to the dictatorship. I think it should be, open source I guess, because Bob was a modern guy? If it isn't, I would go by jammers, lots of jammers, that inflict pain to anyone who uses his implant or keeps it activated. If this isn't possible either, just forbid new implants. This will take much more time, almost a century, but new children will be born without implants (I hope) and them growing up and making up the majority of the population in the state will eventually end the use of implants.

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The question as worded has one large weakness, the mobile receivers are far too small and underpowered to access a satellite network. Satellite receivers can be very small and lightweight, GPS functionality is built into most current generation smartphones and even some watches, and military handheld GPS receivers have been available for decades (the size and weight of a military GPS receiver is more a function of having a shockproof casing, very long life batteries and the need to include cryptography to access GPS should the DOD decide to scramble or offset the signals like they did in the 1991 Persian Gulf War).

Of course the GPS receiver is picking up a very small signal coming from the constellation in space, and it can easily be overridden by using more powerful transmitters on the ground (GPS Jammers which can affect GPS guided munitions use this principle).

So downloads from space or even over the border transmitters can simply be jammed.

Uploading is a more difficult proposition. You need to transmit a powerful enough signal to a receiver that the signal can be picked up. Distance, interference (both man made and natural, especially in the space environment) and other factors can cause the signal to degrade so much that it simply is overwhelmed by noise. While you can improve this through means such as directional antenna or amplifiers, these are large and often consume a great deal of power.

To give you an idea, consider the difference in size between a typical smartphone and an Iridium Satellite phone. The Satphone needs to send a signal to the constellation of satellites overhead, while your smartphone may only need to reach a kilometre or two the the nearest cell tower.

enter image description here

Blackberry Bold smartphone

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Iridium Extreme PTT Satellite Phone

Accessing distant stations would need more power and better antennas to send clear signals to the receivers. This allows the government to limit the transmitter units by arbitrarily setting a transmission power limit to non commercial devices, setting technical standards for antennas which limit the transmission ranges and looking for units which violate these standards. The FCC and other technical authorities throughout the world actually already do this to prevent chaos on the commercial radio spectrum (unlicensed transmitters can negatively affect all kinds of things from garage door openers to commercial radio and television broadcasts), so there is precedent for any government to do so.

Finally, assuming there is some sort of technical workaround, the only way this sort of thing could truly work is through some sort of encryption throughout the system, to prevent hacking, identity theft and other threats. Governments which want to disrupt the system would be working hard to compromise the key or prevent users from switching keys as the network upgrades. Being without a key on an encrypted net would lock you out as effectively as if you had no internet at all. Fortunately, the government offers to continue with local internet access using the keys they provide......

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TL;DR: Don't change their access, change their mentality.

The solution is much simpler than that. Authoritarian regimes don't typically try to completely eliminate civilians from reading altogether. They generally are more effective stirring up the anger and fear of the masses.

Enemy broadcasts are outlawed, and heavily stigmatized. Anybody caught communicating outside of government founded networks will be arrested, and/or worse.

Even worse, Futurestan has implemented a black mirror-esqe system based around 'reputation points.' Staying in line with the regime, watching propaganda, and using the official system will yield points. Anyone with insufficient points will be unable to access public survives, will be more scrutinized by law inforcment, etc. Futurestan's civilians will be able to illegally use another network, but don't expect many civilians to even want to.

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