SpaceX is deploying internet-beaming Starlink satellites to offer high-speed broadband internet connection globally. The company’s primary focus is to provide service to rural communities where internet is unreliable, unavailable, or too expensive to set-up due to geography. One of those places is Alaska, where communities deal with the slowest internet in America. Building terrestrial internet networks in rural areas is very expensive due to population density -one customer every couple miles. And in rural areas that do have access to internet service, there are often just one or two internet providers that offer service at a high cost. Space-based internet like SpaceX’s Starlink constellation can offer a more affordable solution.
The Coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need for more reliable internet and communications services in Alaska because many students do not have access to it at home to participate in online learning. SpaceX aims to bridge the digital divide in Alaska, however, the company has faced challenges to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals to begin offering service in the area. Competitors are against SpaceX plans to connect the region because SpaceX is showing they can deliver access to these areas faster. An Alaska school teacher’s letter may have convinced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to approve SpaceX launch of Starlink satellites into Polar Orbit, despite of competitors' pushback.
“Dear Ms. Dortch [FCC Secretary] My name is Jacob Calderwood. I am a music teacher at a public elementary school in rural Alaska. I have 680 students, the majority of whom are Iñupiaq - Alaska Native,” he wrote to the FCC Secretary, “Since the pandemic shut our school down in March, approximately 3% of my students have been able to participate in online learning in some format. We have found that the primary reason for such low participation is internet access equity. In our town Utqiaġvik, Alaska internet is a luxury that many are barred from using. Being the farthest north city in the United States presents many challenges to access. Everything is expensive here from $10 per gallon milk to internet bills in the hundreds. My own bill […] runs in excess of $300 for 10 megabit speed and the cost varies depending on usage,” Calderwood wrote. “Since hearing about SpaceX’s plan to offer affordable internet to the most rural areas of the world I have held out hope that relief may be coming for many in our community. Especially that my students might all have equitable access to education during this time," he said. SpaceX is offering high-speed internet at a lower monthly price, $100 USD.
"Further, SpaceX's Nov 17th filing requesting permission to launch 58 satellites in a polar orbit puts credibility to their original plan. SpaceX is the only company to begin delivery in a realistic way on the promise of affordable internet to rural America. As you know, beta trials are underway in the contiguous states,” he added. “It disturbs me that companies like Amazon’s Kuiper among others have filed motions to dismiss SpaceX’s request. They are late to the game and have not delivered on any real promises to date. With regard to internet for rural Alaska and the imminent December launch window, time is of the essence. The sooner companies like SpaceX can get beta testing going in Alaska, the better for everyone. During the pandemic my students need the same access to the internet,” Calderwood told the FCC in the letter submitted in December.
@elonmusk so happy @SpaceX has approval now to help you cover Alaska. I wrote to the FCC because I believe in what you can do for Alaska. I would love to be the first beta tester in rural Alaska 🤞🏻, my $500 dish fund is ready! pic.twitter.com/ChS4Oh0Opi— Jacob Calderwood (@jakec1985) January 9, 2021
On January 8, the FCC granted SpaceX approval to launch 10 Starlink satellites into Polar Orbit to cover communities in Alaska. “[…] Viasat, SES/O3b, Kuiper, Kepler, and Pacific Dataport Inc. objected to this request for expedited or partial grant, and Jacob Calderwood, an elementary school music teacher in Utqiagvik, Alaska, submitted a letter supporting SpaceX’s request,” the FCC stated in its approval document. The FCC said the “ten [Starlink] satellites to be included in an upcoming Polar launch will serve the public interest” and the “grant of ten satellites will facilitate continued development and testing of SpaceX’s broadband service in high latitude geographic areas,” the Commission wrote. The 10 Starlink satellites will be deployed to Polar Orbit on an upcoming launch, scheduled for January. The launch will be SpaceX’s first dedicated Rideshare mission called ‘Transporter-1.’ Rideshare launches carry payloads for various companies and organizations.
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