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February 12, 2021

Starlink Broadband Access: Game-Changer for Rural Broadband

An intractable accessibility problem becomes a curable affordability problem.

At the end of this excellent video segment about Starlink in Vermont, Clay Purvis, Director of Connectivity at the Department of Public Service (DPS) , tells WCAX’s Cat Viglienzoni “I think it might be a game-changer for rural Vermont if they can really meet the demand we have.”

Wcax

Many who live at the end of the road in rural Vermont have had no prospect of getting usable broadband access in the near future for love or money. They’re too far from the central offices of the telcos for usable DSL; cablecos don’t have a business case for going the last mile; wireless ISPs have to build new towers to serve these remote locations. Even the Emergency Broadband Action Plan published by DPS doesn’t envision fiber getting to these premises before 2024.

In other words, the further out you are, the longer it’s going to take to get infrastructure to you.

The beauty of low earth orbit satellite (LEOS) broadband as provided by Starlink is that the infrastructure is already there in the sky. It’s just as easy to see a satellite from a remote location as it is from downtown – maybe easier because you have room for a dish. Unlike the last generation of satellite services which relied on geostationary satellites 22,000 miles above the earth service from LEOS a few hundred miles high is better than any service available today except high end fiber and there are currently no limits on the amount of data you send or receive each month.

Starlink cost almost $600 for equipment including shipping and handling and $99/month. For well-to-do people this isn’t an issue and orders for the service are already backlogged in Vermont and across rural America. For others - including many who need the ability to study at home, work from home, and use telemedicine – price is an issue even when availability isn’t.

In the long term the price of satellite access will come down. Both Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have said that they’ll launch services which compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink. But the need for rural broadband access is now.

Subsidies directly to lower income families to buy broadband access make civic sense whether those families are in areas already served by a traditional broadband service or in the areas which Starlink has suddenly made accessible.

Having the option to get service to the far corners of Vermont NOW is the game-changer Clay is talking about.

Cautions: Starlink is still in Beta and has Beta glitches. It’s called the “better than nothing” Beta and it is better than nothing. But the service shouldn’t be eligible for subsidies until it has demonstrated sustained reliability except where there is nothing else usable. That milestone should be achieved in the next months. Also, like other broadband solutions, Starlink doesn’t get to every last home; it requires a good view of the sky. It won’t get us all the way to zero unserved by itself. But it IS a game changer.

See also:

Starlink Broadband Passes “Better Than Nothing” Beta Test

Starlink Broadband Service - More on the Beta plus Exciting Video

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