The Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) became the first school district in the United States to be part of the SpaceX Starlink beta pilot program that initiated in 2020. The District is in a rural area located in the city of Odessa, West Texas. Students and their families have been using Starlink satellite internet for around a year now. According to ECISD, 45 families living in the Pleasant Farms area South of Ector County received free Starlink service for 12-months. All families were selected by the school district based on their location and needs. Earlier this year, 90 additional families in rural West Texas received free access to the Starlink broadband service from the school district. The ECISD pilot program was funded in collaboration with SpaceX, local government, and the Permian Strategic Partnership (PSP).
"This innovative partnership represents bold and unprecedented action for our school district and our community," the ECISD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Scott Muri said in a statement released by the district. "Our research clearly indicates the lack of broadband access is a crisis in Ector County. In collaboration with SpaceX, we are providing space-based Internet service to students and families that have few, if any, options. The partners with us share our vision for equity and access for all students," he said when the program initiated. Now, Dr. Muri hopes to connect more families to reliable internet, he is part of a local organization called 'Connector Task Force' that aims to find solutions to expand cost-effective broadband coverage across West Texas.
“One year ago today, ECISD became the first school district to partner with SpaceX to use the Starlink satellite constellation to deliver Internet to students. Work continues to ensure all families have access to high speed broadband Internet,” Ector District representatives shared via Twitter on October 20, alongside a video.
One year ago today, ECISD became the first school district to partner with SpaceX to use the Starlink satellite constellation to deliver Internet to students. Work continues to ensure all families have access to high speed broadband Internet. #ECISDLeads— Ector County ISD (@EctorCountyISD) October 20, 2021
According to a city report by OAonline, Dr. Muri is in discussions with city leaders to expand broadband access to more regions. He says that Odessa City Council and Commissioners plan to use a portion of federal COVID-19 recovery funds to develop infrastructure that would enable more residents to have access to affordable internet options. “[…]The Dallas Fed[eral Reserve] wanted to accelerate that work with us. They brought a broadband consulting firm to the table. This is really a company that designs broadband infrastructure for communities, cities, towns, across the country. And so we’ve been working with them, they helped us develop a model. It is a kind of a shovel-ready blueprint, if you will, of where we could put fiber optic cabling and wireless opportunities throughout Ector County that would ensure that almost everyone had access to high-speed broadband in our community. They also put together a business model and price tag with all of this,” Muri told reporters, explaining that the blueprint outlines work with several internet provider companies, including ground based and satellite systems.
Dr. Muri says that fiber-optic cable internet would only provide internet to those living close to the city, “[...] We would still have some very remote parts of our community that would be reliant upon satellite[s] to bring their solutions. So this is where the SpaceX Starlink satellites still comes into play in our community,” Muri said, stating that fiber-optic cables would be too expensive to set up through “some of the very remote parts of our community simply wouldn’t make sense when there is high-speed broadband available through satellite for some of these families and/or businesses [...]” he said.
He told reporters that the school district is still in discussions with SpaceX to assess how to expand internet service into more parts of Ector County. “It would require them to launch more satellites, because the satellites that are right now orbiting our area, literally orbit Pleasant Farms, which I find fascinating … We’ve had a conversation with some folks at the state level that are interested in investing some additional state dollars in this adventure to significantly expanded across Ector County to provide many more families with this opportunity, so that the state could study it, better understand it, and then in the 2023 legislative session, have a great project in which the state legislature could fund and make more available to other parts of Texas, not just Ector County,” Muri stated.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX