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Russia denies One Web’s satellite internet request

A firm that plans to launch hundreds of satellites into orbit to provide worldwide internet coverage has failed in its latest attempt to get approval in Russia. OneWeb, whose headquarters are in the UK, was seeking to use a certain band of radio frequencies in Russia. However, the State Commission for Radio Frequencies has denied it permission to do so. OneWeb has been trying to get approval for its Russian operations since 2017.

The company was founded by US entrepreneur Greg Wyler. It launched its first six satellites, out of a proposed 650, into orbit in February. In 2017, Russia’s communications authority Roskomnadzor blocked OneWeb from offering services in the country. And the Federal Security Service (FSB) said that the satellites could be used for espionage.

According to German market research firm GfK, 90 million people in Russia have internet access – but a quarter of the population is still not connected. The latest refusal of OneWeb was a sign that the country’s authorities remain keen to continue tightening their control of internet access, said Prof Christopher Newman at Northumbria University.

“[Satellite internet] presents an existential strategic threat to their trying to limit internet activity within their boundaries,” he told the BBC. “There are going to be large swathes of Russian territory… that are going to become very dependent on internet from space.”

It would be hard to connect these remote regions to the internet using traditional, ground-based cables and broadcasts, he added. However, Prof Newman also noted that the move was somewhat ironic since OneWeb is using Russian rockets and launch sites to send its satellites into orbit.

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