The U.S. tech startup One Web, which plans to bring an affordable internet to the world using satellites, has offered to sell a minority stake in the project to Russia in order to assuage the country’s fears of the project, according to a new report.
Russia’s federal security service (FSB) had previously expressed concerns that One Web’s satellites could be used for intelligence gathering and espionage operations that would jeopardize the country’s national security.
One Web has now offered to sell Russia a 12.5 percent stake in the project, according to a report from Reuters. The stake would be offered in exchange for access to the Russian market and assistance from the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
Sources told Reuters that the offer would give Russia’s government representation on the country’s board of directors and access to technical details about the project.
It is unclear whether Russia would accept the offer. The company claims it’s holding similar conversations with a variety of countries worldwide.
Greg Wyler, a former manager for Google, launched the startup in 2012 and has since raised $1.7 billion for the project from a number of investors, including Airbus, Coca-Cola, and Qualcomm.
Last year, Wyler testified before Congress and provided details about his plan to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology. During his testimony, Wyler described his vision for bringing low-cost internet to rural areas and boosting local economies in the process.
“In 2003, I began connecting hundreds of schools and rural communities to the internet, building the first fiber to the home and the first 3G network on the continent,” Wyler said of his work in Africa. “With each connection, we saw the positive impact of community access on education, telemedicine and opportunity. I saw children who, for the first time, could explore their personal interests as deeply as they liked. With local teams, we pushed the boundaries to deploy the newest technologies in some of the hardest to reach and neediest rural populations in the world.
“To build this system we needed to break new ground in satellite manufacturing. Earlier this year we did just that, and our $85 million specialized facility in Florida will soon start production. Capable of producing 15 satellites per week, this new factory has also had multiplier effects for the regional economy,” Wyler added to Congress about his project.
The company is expected to launch its first satellites in early 2019. One Web had originally planned to launch 900 satellites worldwide but has since reduced the number to 600. The satellites allegedly cost around $500,000 each.
In Russia, large segments of the rural population still do not have access to the internet. Only an estimated 50 percent of Russia’s roughly 143 million inhabitants have access to the internet, compared to almost 80 percent of U.S. residents.