SpaceX’s Starlink Bringing High-Speed Internet to Rural Customers

SpaceXs+Starlink+satellites%2C+pictured+here+deploying+from+a+Falcon+9+rocket%2C+are+expected+to+cover+ranges+around+the+entire+Earth+by+2022.%0APhoto+provided+by+SpaceX.

SpaceX

SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, pictured here deploying from a Falcon 9 rocket, are expected to cover ranges around the entire Earth by 2022. Photo provided by SpaceX.

Gordon Tuomikoski, Editor-in-Chief

Elon Musk’s new Starlink service looks to modernize the rural internet infrastructure of the world and may provide real competition to local providers here in Glenwood.

HughesNet, a popular local satellite internet provider can provide only eight megabits per second of average download speeds, a fifty-gigabyte data limit, 600 milliseconds of latency lag, all for a cost of $150 a month.

Compare this to Cox Internet in Omaha, where $100 a month can get users over a gigabit per second of speeds and under twenty milliseconds of latency. It is clear that local and rural internet service providers overcharge and under-provide.

With over 1,500 satellites launched so far by Starlink, which is owned by SpaceX, around the world, and a long-term goal of potentially over 42,000, Starlink is something that is constantly growing and ever-improving. SpaceX’s goal is to provide high-speed internet to rural customers who have overpriced, slow, or even no internet options while avoiding the problems that come with satellite internet.

Starlink is opening the door for fiber-competing speeds to customers in rural areas where it is not available.

“I was paying CenturyLink $40 a month for seven megabits per second download speeds,” said a Starlink customer from Indianola, Iowa, who posted on Reddit. “I have had great success with Starlink. Speeds have ranged from 64 megabits per second to 120.”

One Glenwood customer already received his Starlink kit and reached an average of 80 megabits (eight megabits is equivalent to one megabyte) per second on a cloudy day, where normal satellite internet providers often struggle due to cloud coverage.

“Just set it up minutes ago myself,” said resident Rob Williams in a Facebook post. “Plug and play simple.”

Starlink is an ambitious project that has already cost billions of dollars and is not expected to make a profit until 2031.

“SpaceX needs to pass through a deep chasm of negative cash flow over the next year or so to make Starlink financially viable,” said Musk in a tweet from February. “Every new satellite constellation in history has gone bankrupt. We hope to be the first that does not.”

The biggest issues that come with satellite internet are low speeds and high latency (lag time), as well as the huge dropouts that come from lack of satellite ranges. Because of Starlink’s low-orbiting altitude, groundbreaking technology, and ever-growing number of satellites, Starlink stands out from other local satellite competitors like Viasat and HughesNet in more areas than just speed per dollar. 

One of the biggest concerns with Starlink is its impact on astronomy. The satellite constellation, when fully completed, will create a bright, visible line in the sky, an array of stars that can really hurt those who are participating in visual astronomy, and create light pollution. Another key concern is the possibility of Starlink’s satellites becoming ‘space junk,’ or chunks of metal at high speeds, which can be very hazardous to astronautical orbital operations.

The satellite’s ion engines have a three percent failure rate, already leaving over 23 (as of October 2020) defunct Starlink satellites wandering in orbit.

“If SpaceX ends up deploying all 42,000 satellites, a three percent failure rate would mean more than 1,200 dead satellites orbiting in low altitude for years,” said Sissi Cao of Observer, an online astronomy news outlet. “That alone is equivalent to a third of the total number of retired satellites in Earth’s orbit right now.”

However, due to the low orbit of Starlink, many failed satellites will eventually decay their orbit and harmlessly burn up in the atmosphere, rather than float as space junk.

To combat the problems of light pollution, SpaceX has been working to reduce light emissions.

“We are taking some key steps to reduce satellite brightness,” said Musk in a tweet from last April. “It should be much less noticeable during orbit by changing solar panel angles and all satellites will be getting sunshades starting with launch number nine.”

The problem of internet infrastructure has been an ongoing debate in America for decades, and Starlink may be looking to disrupt the current trend.

“You have basically two (satellite) internet providing companies in the U.S. until now,” said Williams. “They’ve gotten billions in taxpayer money to improve internet infrastructure and yet they’ve done nothing but pocket it.”

According to Publicknowledge.org, broadband internet providers have been taking advantage of customers in a variety of ways, including throttling speeds. This is due to the lack of net neutrality, a policy that used to make internet service providers treat customers equally, which was repealed in 2018. 

“Of course, private Internet service providers already receive various subsidies from states and the federal government, including $1.5 billion a year for rural networks from the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund,” said Jon Brodkin of ArsTechnica.  “Despite this, telecommunication companies like AT&T have mostly avoided upgrading their copper networks to fiber, except in areas where they face competition from cable companies.”

Starlink is available in many parts of Iowa, including Glenwood. Due to high demand, orders can take weeks to over a month to ship. Those interested can sign up on Starlink’s website to check the availability. To purchase, buyers pay $500 for the satellite dish package, and from there-on, the service will cost $100 a month with no data caps. Musk has stated that these prices are subject to change as the Beta continues.

The future is bright for other means of faster internet in the Glenwood area however, as providers like Western Iowa Networks are moving to install fiber optics in the area, including the High School. 

“Construction is set to get underway this summer with installs coming later this year and into early 2022,” said Chantelle Grove of Carroll Broadcasting.

However, those who live outside of Western Iowa Network’s current construction area are encouraged to look into Starlink, as it may take years to get fiber internet in their area.