satellite. He receives the transmission through a dish he installed this January; it arrives with messages, too—tweets, blogs, odes to Satoshi—sent by bitcoiners around the world. Goss rebroadcasts them from a radio device perched on his roof, in case the neighbors care to tune in. There’s nothing wrong with Goss’ terrestrial internet connection, he assures me—Kingman is notthatremote. But if bitcoin is truly digital gold, as he believes, contingencies are important. If the internet goes down, how else will you access your cache?
Gregory Barber covers cryptocurrency, blockchain, and artificial intelligence for WIRED.
For some, the trouble with bitcoin, the internet’s native currency, is the internet. Sure, bitcoin may be “decentralized,” with copies of its ledger stored on computers all over the world. But is itreallydecentralized if it relies on the pipes of your local internet provider? For those wary of tracking and censorship, analog signals—through satellites and land-based radio devices—offer a welcome buffer from central control. Plus, if you believe that bitcoin, which is again worth more than $10,000, is the right place to store your wealth, satellites offer the comfort of redundancy.
The idea isn’t totally irrational. Consider India, where officials recently proposed jailing people for 10 years for using bitcoin. Or Egypt, where the government unplugged the internet in 2011. Perhaps you live on a remote island tethered to the internet by a single undersea cable, or a place without any internet access at all.
Bitcoin’s celestial coverage comes from Blockstream, a blockchain software company. To be clear, Blockstream isn’t launching satellites itself; it rents a small portion of the bandwidth on commercial satellites, which are mainly used for TV. The data is beamed up with enough bandwidth to ensure the blockchain stays up to date. Users can also send along messages, paid through the Lightning Network, a technology that allows small bitcoin payments. The satellites broadcast the signals back down to whoever might b
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