OTF increases funding for circumvention tools to support 46 million monthly users

April 18, 2024

Open Technology Fund (OTF) is pleased to announce its Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund will support additional censorship circumvention tools to provide access to the free and open internet to up to 46 million users each month. Long-time partners PsiphonnthLink, and Lantern will continue to receive support to expand their reach to millions more users in China, Iran, and Russia. Three new providers, including FreeBrowser and RostamVPN, will also receive funding to significantly increase the number of users in authoritarian countries. Combined, they will serve tens of millions of users in the world’s most repressed online environments including Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, Russia, Russian-occupied Ukraine, and Turkmenistan.

“Millions of people around the world now regularly rely on OTF-supported circumvention tools to access the uncensored internet, and demand is only increasing. These tools are a critical information lifeline for those who would otherwise be cut off from trusted, independent news,” said OTF President Laura Cunningham. “OTF’s ability to increase our investments to meet growing needs is the result of sustained bipartisan support for our Congressional mandate, and we are grateful for the opportunity to connect millions more people to the uncensored internet.”

As China, Iran, Russia, and other authoritarians invest in more sophisticated online information controls, demand for OTF-supported circumvention tools continues to rise. In 2021, there were 9 million monthly active users of OTF-supported circumvention tools. Today, OTF regularly supports 40 million monthly active users. OTF’s investment in these tools effectively unlocks the audiences for independent media outlets operating in closed spaces, including those funded by the U.S. Agency for Global Media, a significant contribution to the digital reach of U.S. global broadcasting.

“The Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund is a critical initiative providing crucial access to the free and uncensored internet for tens of millions living under authoritarian governments,” said Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya. “Implemented by Open Technology Fund, this deliverable of the inaugural Summit for Democracy supports 40 million users of circumvention tools every month. Together with like-minded government and private sector partners, the United States is unwavering in our support to those around the world demanding the free flow of information. Open source censorship circumvention tools, like those supported through this fund, are a key component of U.S. efforts to advance human rights and democracy around the globe, online and offline.”

OTF’s Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund was established in partnership with the Department of State in December 2021 at the inaugural Summit for Democracy to counter growing internet repression globally. The Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund provides resources on a competitive basis to large-scale, open-source circumvention tools with a documented track record of successfully circumventing authoritarian censorship in China, Iran, Russia, and other closed information environments. Without these critical resources, circumvention tool operators would be forced to throttle or limit usage of their tools in these countries at a time when they are needed most.

The Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund is designed to maximize cost efficiencies to enable access to the greatest number of users possible. It only costs about $0.07 to support a single user for a month – or less than $1 per user per year. Critically, OTF’s funding for anti-censorship technologies is also part of a broader call to action by the White House to the private sector to further support users in highly censored environments with affordable access to anti-censorship tools.

OTF is grateful to the U.S. Agency for Global Media for their ongoing support, and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and the Bureau of Near East Affairs for providing $17.7 million in financial support to help establish the Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund.

About OTF

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) is a non-profit organization that aims to advance internet freedom in the world’s most repressive environments to ensure that all people can safely access the uncensored Internet in order to seek, receive, and impart information freely. OTF was first established in 2012 as a program at USAGM grantee Radio Free Asia and became an independent organization in 2019.

Find out more

Contact Victoria Benner
Director, External Affairs

Originally published at https://www.usagm.gov/2024/04/18/otf-increases-funding-for-circumvention-tools-to-support-46-million-monthly-users/

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