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REP. MARIA ELVIRA SALAZAR LAUNCHES OPERATION STARFALL

August 31, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar (FL-2 7), Michael Waltz (FL-06), Claudia Tenney (NY-22), and a dozen Republican lawmakers introduced theAmerican Freedom and Internet Access Act (HR 5123). This bill implements “Operation Starfall” – a strategic plan to provide access to wireless communications abroad and ensure we are ready when blackouts occur, disaster strikes, or when rogue regimes shut down internet access. This is critical to protecting the safety and wellbeing of American citizens at home and abroad.

“The Biden Administration refused to help the people of Cuba when they needed it the most, so Congress must act to ensure we have a clear strategy to deploy in a time of crisis” said Rep. Salazar. “We cannot stand by when tyrants shut off the lights and when American security is at risk. With Operation Starfall, we can improve homeland security and be ready to restore internet, freedom, and prosperity to those in need.”

“The Biden Administration failed when the Cuban people needed their solidarity the most as they took to the streets to oppose the country’s communist regime,” said Rep. Waltz. “Congress must now step up to fill the void in leadership from the White House and provide the people of Cuba and elsewhere in the world access to information and communication that their government’s refuse to allow. Operation Starfall will help expose the grotesque human rights abuses happening in Cuba and other repressive regimes and provide a platform for those seeking freedom over oppression. Consider how even more tragic the withdrawal from Afghanistan would have been during a blackout and Americans had no method of communication.”

“When dictatorships and authoritarian regimes face pressure from their own people to reform, the first thing they do is shut off access to the internet. In recent years, this pattern of malicious behavior has played out across the globe, from Havana to Tehran. The United States is the most technologically advanced nation in the world and we have the tools to circumvent these shutdowns and stop the censorship. We cannot continue to stand by and allow the voices of those living under tyranny to be silenced. I’m honored to join with Representatives Salazar and Waltz to introduce the American Freedom and Internet Access Act. Operation Starfall will expand our capacity to deliver reliable and secure connectivity and circumvention tools to those who need them most in times of crisis,” said Rep. Tenney.

Operation Starfall is a strategic plan to deploy stratospheric balloons, aerostats, or satellite technology capable of rapidly delivering wireless internet anywhere on the planet from high altitudes. With the use of emerging technologies that already exist in the private sector, it can be employed to create wireless internet networks covering a target geographic territory. At home, Operation Starfall would be deployable across the United States in the wake of floods, hurricanes, or wildfire devastation when local communications infrastructure is disabled.

Operation Starfall leverages U.S. innovation to empower citizens and strengthen democracy by exposing regimes that repress access to information and violate fundamental Human Rights. In the wake of the recent historic protests in Cuba, the brutal Communist regime shut off all access to the internet on the island while it tortured and jailed peaceful pro-democracy protestors. Likewise, in 2019, the Iranian regime did the same when the Iranian people bravely took to the streets to demand their freedom. Will we be ready to act, if called upon, to support future cries against oppression?

As we watch the tragic events unfold in Afghanistan today, we are reminded that it is imperative the United States give its military all potential capabilities in order to protect people around the world – especially Americans abroad that are in mortal danger if the power grid and cell service are shut down. The greatest country in the world should have the bandwidth available to protect its citizens abroad and empower free speech and access to information across the globe. 

The dozen lawmakers who have joined this effort to enhance military readiness and ensure we have a plan in place, include Representatives Alex Mooney (WV-02), Carlos Gimenez (FL-26), Nicole Malliotakis (NY-11), Brian Mast (FL-18), Bill Posey (FL-11), Rick Crawford (AR-01), Dusty Johnson (SD), Steven Palazzo (MS-02), Ann Wagner (MO-02), and Jody Hice (GA-10), Jim Baird (IN-04), and Pat Fallon (TX-04).

Congresswoman Salazar currently represents Florida's beautiful 27th Congressional district which includes most of the City of Miami, its suburbs, and the beaches. She serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and is the only woman, of either party, to serve on the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

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