Communications Satellites: Global Change Agents

By Joseph N. Pelton; Robert J. Oslund et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
Satellites and the Promise of Teleeducation
and Telehealth
Joseph N. Pelton
The George Washington University

The next ten years are a critical window of opportunity for satellites with respect to the countries with developed economies and perhaps the next twenty years for developing countries with less developed terrestrial telecommunications systems.

—Joseph N. Pelton and Alfred MacRae, et al. (1998, p. 17)

There are somewhere between 250 and 300 geosynchronous satellites in orbit today. A typical satellite uses digital TV transmission technology; if used exclusively for TV, the latest systems launched can each send some 500 plus channels to the earth. A large, late-generation satellite such as an Intelsat-9 could conceivably transmit some 1,500 separate TV channels at once (or about 10 billion bits of information or the equivalent of 5,000,000 pages of a very, very long book—all in 1 second). If only 5% of the world's in-orbit satellite capacity were to be reserved for educational and health care purposes, this would create a downpouring of information unprecedented in the history of humankind. In a single day, using only 1/20th of the world's available satellite capacity 3,300 terabits of information would have streamed to earth (the equivalent of 400 Libraries of Congress)— all in just 24 hours. In a year's time, this would represent a tidal wave of information (or perhaps one might call it a title wave of knowledge equivalent to 150,000 Libraries of Congress). In short, the key issue involving satellite-based education and health care today is not whether sophisticated networks to support improved global education and health care systems could be devised, but how it might be done. How could world governments, the United Nations, or even private enterprise organize a new and open economic and social system that would allow ex

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