On May 30, SpaceX announced that Starlink is now connecting over 400 Cuba Independent School District (CISD) student homes located in rural communities across the U.S. state of New Mexico. The remote region is located north of Albuquerque, its geography has inhibited the expansion of terrestrial internet infrastructures due to the difficulty and high cost of building across rugged terrain which includes vast expanses of arid desert regions, high plateaus, rolling plains, and mountains. SpaceX’s Starlink shared that the area where Starlink is connecting students “spans 120 square miles, to help close the digital divide.”
With Starlink the New Mexico government has been able to give students access to high-speed internet at home and schools because the space-based network does not require building any complex fiber-optic cable infrastructure. To access SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet, the user simply connects a pizza-sized user antenna to an electricity outlet and points it at a clear view of the sky to access the internet wirelessly via the Wi-Fi router. The satellites directly beam internet data to user terminals on Earth, even the world’s most remote places.
In a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, the Technology Director of Cuba Independent School District, Timothy Chavez, wrote a testimony of how useful the Starlink service has been to the rural communities located in Sandoval County. “The District covers a total of 120 square miles and has three schools: Cuba Elementary, Cuba Middle, and Cuba High School. The district enrollment has increased greatly from 489 students in 2019 to 769 students in 2023, and the District draws most of its funding from state and federal sources. Many students are Native Americans who live on the Navajo Nation and are bused to school over long distances each day. The remainder of students live in the Village of Cuba or the surrounding areas,” they wrote in the letter. The letter mostly discussed how they grew up in the region without internet connectivity and how glad they are that the government’s funding brought Starlink. “[...] The Universal Service Fund—in particular, the E-Rate program—has allowed us to make real progress to close that divide. With these dollars, and others from the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) Cuba Schools has made an enormous, life-changing impact through broadband availability. We fully support the Universal Service Fund, and recognize that the support it provides allows communities like ours can survive in the 21st Century,” they wrote.
CISD made it their goal to work with the local government to bring Starlink satellite internet to all students. They started in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic started and by 2021 their high school graduation rate was 95% which is significantly higher than the national average. Mr. Chavez led the effort to connect the Starlink antennas to student homes where he found out that many students live in poverty and lack things that people in the U.S. take for granted and he told the U.S. Senate that federal funding will be crucial to pay for the internet service long-term. “All students of the Cuba School District have now received a Starlink internet satellite system which runs at 230Mbps download and 25Mbps [megabits per second] upload speeds. Cuba students can still learn during remote days, whether due to pandemic restrictions or other issues unique to rural areas like Cuba. For example, due to the poor condition of roads in the area, heavy rain and intense weather can make it impossible for school buses to bring our students to school. On those days, we still utilize the technology and methods we relied on during the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure our students are not missing out on crucial days of their schooling due to the poor infrastructure around them,” Mr. Chavez said, “With this technology, our students are now a part of a global, interconnected and digitally-literate society. They are connected socially, emotionally, and in the future financially as we close the digital divide and open up opportunities here at home and across the world to our students.”
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX Starlink.com
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.