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August 31, 2023

Vermont Starlink FAQs Updated

Revised 6/27/23

  1. What Is Starlink?

Starlink is a very high-speed low-latency space-based internet access service originally designed for use in rural areas worldwide which lack adequate terrestrial broadband infrastructure. The service is now available for use in vehicles including boats and planes far from cell towers and is often used to provide emergency broadband when infrastructure has been damaged. The company Starlink, which offers the service, is a subsidiary of SpaceX, the private for-profit space launch company founded by Elon Musk.

  1. What speeds does Starlink offer?

According to the Starlink service map, download speeds in Vermont are between 55 and 183 megabits per second (Mbps), uploads are between 11 and 23 Mbps, and latency (critical for Zooming) is between 44 and 56 milliseconds. All these well exceed the State of Vermont’s minimum standards. I have been getting speeds in these ranges for the last two plus years in Stowe, Vermont.  Starlink says these speeds will improve as they add satellites and upgrade technology, but best to judge by what is demonstrated today.

  1. Do streaming to multiple devices simultaneously, teleconferencing, and VoIP work over Starlink?

Yes.

  1. How can a satellite service have low latency? Older satellite services like HughesNet are unusable for Zooming, phone calls, or even much web browsing.

The old satellite services used geostationary satellites, which must be 22,000 miles from earth. Even at the speed of light, it takes a relatively long time for a signal to get there and back, hence the latency. Starlink uses low earth orbit satellites (LEOS), which are only a couple of hundred miles high. The travel time for the signal is not significant.

  1. What does Starlink cost?

The basic residential service costs $599 for the initial kit including a WiFi router and everything you need for a ground installation (close to $700 when you add Vermont tax and shipping). The monthly fee is $90 in Vermont (which Starlink considers an under-deployed area) with no minimum commitment or contract; $120 in areas of the country where there has been more demand. 30-day money back guarantee on everything.

“Business” service is suitable for small to medium rural businesses and can be used for web-hosting (although I’d recommend doing that in a cloud). It starts at $250/month with a $2500 equipment fee.

“Roam” service is good for camping, RVs, on-the-road, and emergency use. It also costs $599 for equipment but the monthly fee is $150 for use anywhere in the US and $200 for use worldwide. It has lower priority than the residential service so can be slower in congested times at congested places. It’s designed for permanent mounting on a vehicle and does work while vehicles are in motion.

“Mobility” service is a high-speed version of Roam which Starlink says has download speeds up to 220Mbps and is “for critical in-motion applications.” It starts at $2500 for equipment and $250/month. It can also be used on boats far from shore and higher-priced versions can be used on planes.

“Swarm” provides connectivity for remote sensors and devices with low bandwidth requirements. Cost can be as low as $5/month which is much better than cellular can offer and works where cellular doesn’t. Swarm was a recent acquisition by Starlink and I don’t have any direct experience with it nor do I know anyone who has.

  1. Does Starlink have data caps?

If a residential user exceeds one-terabyte (one trillion bytes) per month of access between 7AM and 11PM in any one month, the priority of their service will be reduced for the remainder of the month. This is called a “fair use policy” and mainly serves to prevent extensive resale of residential service and to force those who do resell into buying Business Service.  Cable companies and other ISPs have similar policies often with lower limits. In Vermont there is not much difference between priority and non-priority service because the state has such low density of use.

  1. Where in Vermont is Starlink available?

See https://www.starlink.com/map for the latest on availability. As of now (8/28/2023), Starlink is available immediately everywhere in Vermont. It is designed for use at “the end of the road” since all the required infrastructure is in the sky. Starlink cannot be used where it is not possible to get an unobstructed view of the high northern sky. The mountains around you probably won’t matter unless you’re in a very narrow valley; the trees in your yard can be a problem.

  1. How does Starlink get installed?

It is self-installing. Out of the box, Starlink can be set on the ground where there is a clear view of the high sky. In Vermont it doesn’t need to see the southern sky. The dish has a motor and positions itself correctly for its location (see video). You do have to find a way to put a single wire through your wall which then carries both signal and power to the dish. At extra cost, you can buy kits for no-holes roof mounting or pole mounting. You use a smartphone app to set up your WiFi network.

  1. Is paid installation available from Starlink?

No.

  1. What happens if the dish is covered by snow or ice?

Doesn’t happen, even in Vermont. The dish is heated.

  1. How reliable is Starlink?

According to Starlink and my own experience, the service is available more than 99.5% of the time. It is sensitive to obstructions like tree limbs which typically cause 5-15 second outages (you freeze on Zoom). Choosing a good location for the dish is critical. Even with no obstructions, there are occasionally Zoom-freezing blips; but most people have found it more than adequate for work-at-home, especially compared to DSL.

  1. Does Starlink degrade in bad weather?

Not noticeably. Unlike satellite TV or service from wireless ISPs, where the radio signals travel almost horizontally, the Starlink signal is going almost straight up so is through the weather in just a few miles. It is affected by a thunderstorm directly overhead.

Starlink is far more reliable than any terrestrial service in a weather emergency so long as you have backup power at your location. The satellites are far above the weather which may topple telephone poles or bring down the lines. They are solar powered so remain in operation regardless of what’s going on below unlike the towers of cellular operators and wireless ISPs (WISPs) which can run out of fuel for their generators in a prolonged emergency.

  1. Is Starlink service likely to degrade as more users are added to the system?

Probably not. So far Starlink is limiting the number of new signups to the number of people in each area they can serve without degrading service. As of August 2023, they had launched over 5000 satellites– each satellite circles the earth every ninety minutes. Approximately 60 new satellites are launched every two weeks.

  1. When is Starlink the best choice for broadband in Vermont?

The best broadband service is the broadband service you can get now. There was a huge waiting list for Starlink in Vermont but most people have now received their dish. Currently Starlink is available for delivery everywhere in Vermont. See Where is Starlink Available Now? Finally An Official Map.

If fiber runs by your house and you can have it installed NOW at a reasonable price, it is probably the best option for you. See Starlink Beta vs. Fiber.

If you can get enough bandwidth for your needs NOW from a wireless ISP at less cost than Starlink, you may want to do that even though you won’t get the same speed you’ll get with Starlink. See Starlink or Your Local WISP for Broadband Service.

If you don’t currently have cable or excellent wireless ISP service and neither a fiber build or wireless ISP tower is firmly scheduled for 2023 for your location and you can afford it and you can see enough of the sky, you ought to order Starlink. It is certainly better quality than DSL from Consolidated if you have that option. Ordering requires a $99 deposit but the deposit is fully refundable in case you have a better option sooner. The deposit is applied to equipment cost when the equipment is shipped.

The Starlink service is about on a par today with what you might get from a cable company unless they are supplying fiber. It is about the same cost as rural fiber plans offering similar speeds – although this may be more speed than you need.

  1. Is Starlink an opportunity for Vermont?

Starlink is an opportunity which many Vermonters are already taking advantage of on their own either because they have no other broadband service available or because they’re not satisfied with their existing choices. Starlink is being used in locations which are shown on the most current maps from the Department of Public Service as having no service available which meets the State’s minimum standards.

Without Starlink, there is no way to get broadband access NOW in places where it is most needed. With Starlink, the problem of accessibility becomes a problem of affordability.

  1. Is a subsidy from the State needed to bring Starlink infrastructure to unserved parts of Vermont?

No. The common infrastructure for Starlink is the satellites SpaceX is launching and the Starlink-built ground stations around the world. Your dish and associated electronics don’t depend on any terrestrial infrastructure in the State.

From a public policy point of view, it may well be desirable for the State to subsidize the one-time costs of hookup to services which are available now including Starlink where no other high-quality services are available.

  1. The legislature has authorized towns to form and join Communications Union Districts (CUDs) in order to bring broadband access to the places which don’t have it. Will Starlink make it impossible for the CUDs to perform their mission?

No. The mission of the CUDs is to bring broadband to unserved Vermonters. Prior to the advent of services like Starlink, it was assumed that this meant bringing fiber to every home. CUDs other than ECFiber, which is already in operation, are not promising to get fiber to end-of-the-road locations which most need broadband for at least six years and even then at a very high infrastructure cost – often estimated at more than $3000 per house and escalating the less dense the neighborhood is.

The CUD’s mission of highspeed broadband everywhere in Vermont is made easier – and achievable sooner – with the option of using Starlink. CUDs can expand fiber out from their hubs without asking those at the end of the road to wait six years or more.

The CUD’s mission should not be limited to fiber as a solution. Starlink is a useful option for accomplishing the connectivity mission NOW. Those now ordering Starlink are not waiting for fiber to reach them. If fiber does come to their neighborhoods at a reasonable cost and/or offers better service than Starlink, they can and will switch to the fiber provider. If fiber is not able to offer them better price performance, there is no point in building out the infrastructure.

  1. How do we know Starlink works in Vermont?

News stories on WCAX, in Seven Days, and on VPR cite successful installations. Reports on Stowe Front Porch Forum indicate generally good results. There is a very large Starlink community on Reddit where successes and failures are discussed. Many of these users are in climates more extreme than Vermont.

You can track the experience of two Vermont users at https://starlinkstatus.space/stations. These users are uploading performance data from their Starlink installations every 15 minutes. See Now Available – Worldwide and Local Current Starlink Performance.

  1. How do I know if Starlink will work at my house, especially given the trees in my yard?

There is a free app available for download from Starlink which will help you tell if you have a good location for the Starlink dish. See How to Find Out Free If Starlink Will Work at Your House. The website https://satellitemap.space/# shows in real time what satellites your dish would be able to see given your location but does not take obstacles into account. See Another Free Way to Tell if Starlink Broadband Will Work at Your Location.

  1. How do I order Starlink?

www.starlink.com. You must make a $99 refundable deposit with your order.

  1. How soon will an order be fulfilled?

New orders from Vermont are being filled immediately so it only takes a week or so.

These FAQs were originally prepared by Jock Gill of Peacham and Tom Evslin of Stowe. I (Tom) prepared this update on 8/28/2023 and am responsible for any inaccuracies. Neither of us have any financial interest in nor business connection with Starlink (except that I am a subscriber) or any affiliated company. For more information see the official Starlink FAQs at https://www.starlink.com/faq.

For more on Starlink see these posts.

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