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Surge and Sustain Fund

The Surge and Sustain Fund is the primary way that OTF provides resources to leading VPN and circumvention solutions to support user costs in highly restrictive environments.

About the Surge and Sustain Fund

As internet censorship continues to escalate globally, more users than ever are relying on circumvention technologies to counter censorship and access the free and open internet. In response to this increasing demand, OTF has established the Surge and Sustain Fund to provide leading circumvention tools with the resources they need to sustain their current users and respond to growing demand for their tools.

In many authoritarian countries, it is cost-prohibitive for citizens to access secure, trustworthy and effective circumvention tools. In recognition and response to this challenge, the Surge and Sustain Fund will support user-carrying costs for non-monetizable users of secure, open-source circumvention tools to ensure that all citizens living in repressive environments have access to these critical anti-censorship technologies.

The Surge and Sustain Fund will not cover any development efforts (please direct all development applications to the Internet Freedom Fund), but instead cover only the additional marginal costs associated with providing circumvention services to demonstrably served monthly active users (MAUs) in pre-specified countries.

Application Process

Applications to the Surge and Sustain Fund go through a three-stage application process. First, a concept note focused on the resilience of the VPN Provider’s technical solution and a number of qualifying conditions.

Second, applicants whose concept notes are deemed to be highly competitive will be invited to submit a full proposal focused on the distinguishing features of their technical solution, its ability to demonstrably support a large user base in highly repressive contexts, and the technical solution’s cost model.

Finally, the Surge and Sustain Fund Advisory Council, made up of experts in the VPN and Internet Freedom space, will conduct a final review.

The concept note and proposal should be submitted through OTF’s online application system.

Applications for this fund will be evaluated and contracts competitively awarded based on:

  • Demonstrated commitment to upholding baseline community standards listed below
  • Resilience of proposed technical solution in specified countries
  • Demonstrated user base in specified countries
  • Demonstrated ability to continue to support user base in specified countries
  • Demonstrated security and privacy measures taken by the provider to ensure the privacy and security of their user base
  • Reasonable and justified budget with validated user-carrying costs and demonstrated cost-saving measures
  • Demonstrated understanding of circumvention space and similar solutions

OTF holds all circumvention providers we work with to industry standards with regards to protecting the security and privacy of their user base. This consideration is made even more important given that this funding is focused on users in authoritarian or high risk contexts. As such, we expect all applicants to this fund to meet the following qualifying conditions:

  • Open source solution: OTF requires solutions be open source. Specific licenses and open sourcing practices can discussed during the application process
  • Security audits: All providers supported by the SSF are expected to undergo regular security audits and provide a report of their most recent security audit
  • Ownership information: OTF expects VPN provider partners to adhere to the industry’s best transparency standards, including ownership
  • Privacy policy: OTF expects VPN provider partners to submit their privacy policies

In addition to qualifying conditions and an assessment of competitiveness conducted through a three-stage application process, potential providers must also validate with documented actual costs their marginal infrastructure and bandwidth costs per Monthly Active User.

Proposal pricing should focus only on costs related to bandwidth and infrastructure needed to support users in specified countries. Applicants will be supplied with a methodology to calculate these costs in the application process.

Please direct any questions to [email protected].

Advisory Council

OTF’s Advisory Council is made up of a diverse array of subject matter experts who understand various relevant fields and issues as they relate to Internet freedom. In their capacity as Advisory Council members, they provide strategic guidance to OTF, including by reviewing proposals.

The Surge and Sustain Fund Advisory Council members are:

  • Amir Houmansadr - Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts
  • Chad Hurley - Director, Office of Internet Freedom at USAGM
  • David Huerta - Senior Digital Security Trainer, Freedom of the Press Foundation
  • Mallory Knodel - Chief Technology Officer, Centre for Democracy and Technology
  • Rodrigue Hajjar - VP of Engineering, Cohere
  • Roya Ensafi - Professor, University of Michigan

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