Elon Musk is a prolific man. There is no need to retell his glorious career here, the curious reader can always review the relevant Wikipedia page, which we will assume to be somewhat accurate. Important to bear in mind that the guy loves to innovate. Most of the time he doesn't really create a completely new products that no one has ever thought of before. On the contrary, he usually takes an existing idea, such as an electric car, and makes it work. Both technically and, at least to some extend, financially. Of course, Tesla is ridiculously overvalued at the time of writing, March 2021, but Tesla auto mobiles can be found nowadays on every road. And thanks to the blind herds of Robinhood and friends, he can fund his other ventures from the general donations of the American government.

SpaceX, another of his companies, also doesn't produce anything new. Flight to the outer space started in the late 1950-ies. His innovation was to make it so much cheaper and more reliable, bringing the cost of payload delivery to the orbit considerably down. And this in turn serves as a leg up to his other venture, Starlink.

That particular brainchild of Mr Musk is what interests us today. In short, Starlink will create a satellite based internet provider, accessible from anywhere in the world. One provider, headquartered in the United States of America, who's services any person on the planet can use, at least in theory. Not an original idea in principle, there are actually existing ISPs doing just that. Their prices are very steep however, so only the really wealthy and desperate use them. And Starlink promises us a connection for around USD 100 plus an extra 500 USD once off for the special connector device. Call it a WiFi router if you wish, although it is rather like a TV-satellite box, which tracks the company's orbital constellation and provides the link. The price is not cheap, strictly speaking, but not exuberant. In fact, many US providers charge similar monthly prices for internet, a side effect of low competition in the North American telecoms market. In most European countries you can get your home broadband much cheaper.

Now comes the punch line - the price is not cheap, as just mentioned, but most certainly affordable. Even more so if taking into account the possibility of a few people living nearby sharing the cost and the connection. What they get in return might be priceless - complete independence from the local internet providers.

You see, traditionally there are only two types of internet connectivity. The first is the older one - some sort of wired link from your home to a central station. Telephone companies were the first ones to provide those, piggybacking on their existing copper wire networks. Remember the sounds these old true modems made? There are other options now as well, through TV cables, through optic fibre and so on. The principle remains the same - some physical linkage between the end point and the ISP's service station all the way to the main internet trunk, leading out of the country.

Another option, somewhat newer, is mobile internet. This is how you browse on your phone. The traffic happens wirelessly between your device and the nearby cellular tower. However, from there onwards the bytes run through the same link (and most often through the same company's infrastructure) as the more traditional one.

This is exactly what makes these services susceptible to government interference. Powers that be can always phone (or text?) the company that manages the main cables and computers, serving the internet for everyone, and tell them to shut it down. Or to restrict access to a particular resource. Or to give them the logs of every access a Mr Smith made during the last 99 years. Or to serve their version of some opposition site, instead of what their writers actually intended. Or all of the above plus some more. Usually they have no problem making their wishes granted, especially in the countries with authoritarian regimes.

Case in point is China. The Communist party, that has been running the country since 1949, with patchy record if one is reviewing the history honestly, was really scared of the internet. They fully control all other forms of the media in the country - newspapers, TV, radio, book publishing. It is easy to do, since there are very few focal points of production and distribution, and the people engaged in these activities are known and can be either controlled or removed. The internet is anonymous, geographically distributed, outside of party's jurisdiction and simply to enormous. Controlling it would have been an almost impossible task. Unfortunately, it also happens to be very very useful. It can facilitate communications and distribution of knowledge, including desirable kinds of it. It can create new services, that make life easier for the average person, and for an average party apparatchik as well. One can watch porn on the internet - and one must never underestimate the influence porn has had on the spread of the internet. In short, the party really wanted to have the internet for all of its benefits, but it was afraid of the loss of control on the flow of information.

In the end the Chinese government (i.e. the Communist Party of China, CPC) decided to allow the internet, but on its own terms. They invested huge amounts of money into creating and deploying an array of automated and human-driven systems that monitor and, when necessary, restrict both access and published content. Since they control all the telecoms in the country, they have the necessary physical access and legal rights to do as they please. The details are numerous and fascinating, and I won't go into them here. Suffice it to say that they block all major "capitalist" internet giants, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp so on. For each blocked service there is a domestic alternative, Chinese born, bread and, of course, controlled and censored. There is WeChat, which is kinda like WhatsApp on steroids. You can message and voice/video call with your friends. You can also make payments, book tickets, use government services and do other things through it. And whatever you do, rest assured that the Big Brother Xi is watching you.

There are Twitter and Youtube alternatives as well, also safely monitored. All undesirable messages and posts are very swiftly removed. Of course, the top troublemakers can earn themselves a visit from the relevant security services. China is not afraid to use its penal code against those that publish "wrong" things. There is no freedom of speech in modern China, even by quickly diluting standards of the "West".

Now we can return to Mr Musk and his new orbital toys. If you remember, the new satellite internet does not depend on the local, government-controlled infrastructure. His link goes straight up into the sky. This means, in simple words, that an average, well, somewhat affluent, middle-class Chinese family, can install one of Mr Musk's devices, sign up for the service and start browsing the "free" internet. And again, we don't need to open this very large can of worms as to how free is Facebook, Twitter and other Google friends. One thing for sure, they are much less prone to CPC's control than WeChat or Weiboo (Chinese Twitter clone). And if now freed Chinese netizens feel unsatisfied with the American social media, they can pretty quickly build a new alternatives, free from any forms of censorship and control.

What would be the consequences of this? Hard to say. We can look at some contemporary examples. In Russia the regime is also quite autocratic, although there it is dressed up in the robes of democracy and pluralism. It is a sham, of course, but the internet remains largely free and almost uncensored. The Russian government makes half-hearted attempts to emulate China in its iron grip on the world wide web and so on, but so far with not much to show for it. You can write pretty much whatever you want on any social network about the rulers, including the president, and no one from the authorities will notice. And yes, there are occasional demonstrations and protests, outpouring of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. The regime is still very stable and doesn't seem to care much. So CPC is also very unlikely to lose power overnight, as soon as Mr Li and Ms Zhang long onto Facebook and start exchanging memes about Xi DaDa. However, it might be a very small breach in the dike, tiny at first, which, over the years, grows and expands, until the whole mighty flow of the virtual Yellow river crashes through and sweeps away everything and everyone in its path. CPC will do everything to prevent this from every becoming a reality.

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