Not Everyone Is Getting Great Service With Starlink

This long-exposure image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay.

This long-exposure image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay.
Photo: Mariana Suarez/AFP (Getty Images)

New Starlink data out today shows where in the U.S. Elon Musk’s ambitious satellite internet service is exceeding expectations—and where it’s falling short.

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According to Ookla, the company behind a Speedtest app and website that lets anyone test the speed of their broadband and mobile connections, Starlink speeds vary greatly depending on where you live.

Starlink is currently available throughout the U.S. and Canada, and has reportedly racked up more than 500,000 preorders. (I placed a preorder a few months ago, but I have yet to receive the equipment.) But users living in certain places within those two countries will get a better connection than others. Broadly, Ookla says median Starlink download speeds in the U.S. ranged from 40.36 Mbps in Columbia County, Ore. to 93.09 Mbps in Shasta County, Calif., during the first quarter of the year.

These may seem like OK speeds, but while in some places they were a vast improvement over fixed broadband providers (545.6% faster in Tehama County, Calif., for instance), others saw a disappointing drop (67.9% slower in Clay County, Mo.).

Looking at a map Ookla provided of Starlink speeds compared to fixed broadband speeds in the U.S., users living in the northern parts of California, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, the border between Oregon and Washington, and a small pocket in the north of Vermont saw the greatest increase in download speeds. But a smattering of pockets across the same states and in other states like Wisconsin and Michigan saw a decrease in download speeds compared to fixed broadband in the area.

When you overlay Ookla’s map with a regular map of the U.S., the areas with worse performance than fixed broadband appear to be clustered around major cities and large metropolitan areas. It’s not surprising that users in or around Los Angeles, for instance, would see slower speeds compared to other ISPs in those areas. A bad satellite connection can happen for a lot of different reasons, but the perhaps the biggest factor is obstructions. Buildings, trees, bad weather—the list goes on. The ideal use case for Starlink and other satellite internet providers is to provide a fast internet connection in the countryside, with wide open spaces for miles. That doesn’t always exist in urban and suburban areas.

A place like Tehama County, Calif., where the largest city is Red Bluff (with just over 14,000 people), is an ideal place for Starlink.

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Customers in both the U.S. and Canada experienced astronomically higher latency compared to fixed broadband customers in the same areas, up to 486% higher in the U.S. and up to 369% in Canada. Latency in the U.S. ranged from a low of 31ms in Kittitas County, Wash., up to 88ms in Otsego County, Mich. Median latency from all other fixed broadband ISPs combined were between 8ms and 47ms.

Starlink is still in its early beta days, but it seems like a viable solution for many rural residents who currently lack reliable access to the internet. As SpaceX sends up more satellites into orbit and increases Starlink’s network capacity, it should be able to offer the same speeds to more people living in rural areas.

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SpaceX’s Starlink Satellite Internet Orders Reportedly Already Exceed 500,000

Illustration for article titled SpaceX's Starlink Satellite Internet Orders Reportedly Already Exceed 500,000

Photo: ESA / Handout (Getty Images)

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is having a banner year, and apparently things just keep getting better: On Tuesday, the company announced that it has received upwards of 500,000 orders for its satellite internet service, Starlink.

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“To date, over half a million people have placed an order or put down a deposit for Starlink,” SpaceX operations engineer Siva Bharadvaj said during a launch event broadcasting its 26th Starlink mission.

Starlink is SpaceX’s planned interconnected internet network, which already features thousands of active satellites — an array known in the space industry as a constellation — that are designed to work together in order to deliver high-speed internet to consumers anywhere on the planet.

Back in December 2020, Starlink won a massive government contract — to the tune of $885 million — to provide high-speed internet to underserved, rural areas of the U.S. The contract came just two months after SpaceX had begun a public beta program for Starlink, pricing internet service at $99 a month on top of a $499 upfront cost that includes a user terminal and Wi-Fi router to connect to the satellites.

In its current form, Starlink is already the world’s largest satellite constellation, with more than 1,500 Starlink satellites currently in orbit.

Despite the announcement of over half a million orders already in play, those numbers are subject to change; as of now, all of those orders are still “completely refundable.” In a Tuesday tweet, Musk himself acknowledged that the preliminary sales numbers were also limited by high density of users in urban areas.” 

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Most likely, all of the initial 500k will receive service,” he wrote.More of a challenge when we get into the several million user range.”

SpaceX President Says Starlink Doesn’t Plan to Offer Tiered Pricing

This long-exposure image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay.

This long-exposure image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay.
Photo: Mariana Suarez/AFP (Getty Images)

Starlink opened up pre-orders for its service in February for a $99 deposit, but it doesn’t appear that the company plans to offer any kind of tiered plan to folks who were hoping for some options.

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SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, speaking during a Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum panel on Tuesday, said that she doesn’t “think we’re going to do tiered pricing to consumers” for Starlink’s satellite internet service, per CNBC. Shotwell added that the company was “going to try to keep it as simple as possible and transparent as possible, so right now there are no plans to tier for consumers.”

That could be a make-or-break for potential subscribers who were hoping for a discounted—or for that matter, even more premium—version of the service than the one it’s currently offering. The $99 refundable security deposit offering that rolled in February does not cover the total cost for the service.

The Starlink installation kit costs $499 and includes a power supply, a wifi router, and a mountable dish antenna. Shipping and handling will add at least another $50 to that price. And then there’s the service itself, which costs $99 per month. That might make the service less accessible to, for example, low-income households in rural regions. And those customers might be better served by Starlink’s satellite service than they might be with 5G.

But that’s who Shotwell said Starlink is attempting to serve, commenting that the company “will be able to serve every rural household in the United States,” according to CNBC, or an estimated 60 million people.

If that’s the case, it would seem Starlink may need to seriously reevaluate its up-front costs.

Burnt Chunk of SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Found on a Farmer’s Field in Washington

The piece of the Falcon 9 rocket.

The piece of the Falcon 9 rocket.
Image: Grant County Sheriff’s Office

The failed deorbiting of a SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage late last month produced a spectacular light show over the Pacific Northwest, but the incident resulted in a large part of the rocket crashing onto a farmer’s field.

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The second stage was supposed to burn up over the Pacific Ocean, far away from populated areas, but a failed deorbit burn resulted in an uncontrolled reentry on March 26, 2021.

Dramatic videos taken from the ground showed bits of glowing debris streaking across the sky around 9:00 p.m. local time, as the upper rocket component burned and disintegrated over the west coast of the United States.

The failed deorbit occurred around three weeks after the launch of the rocket, in which a Falcon 9 successfully deposited 60 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit. The first stage managed to land on a drone ship shortly after launch from Kennedy Space Center on March 4.

SpaceX has been weirdly silent about the whole thing. The Tri-City Herald now reports that a charred piece of the second stage crashed onto a farmer’s field in Washington state. The remnant appears to be a composite overwrapped pressure vessel, or COPV, which is designed to carry fluids, such as super-cold helium, under pressure.

Kyle Foreman from the Grant County Sheriff’s Office told the Tri-City Herald that the tank left a 4-inch dent in the ground. SpaceX, after being contacted by sheriff office deputies, arrived on the scene to collect its garbage.

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“SpaceX recovered a Composite-Overwrapped Pressure Vessel from last week’s Falcon 9 re-entry,” tweeted the Grant County Sheriff. “It was found on private property in southwest Grant County this week. Media and treasure hunters: we are not disclosing specifics.”

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To which sheriff’s office added: “The property owner simply wants to be left alone.”

As to what went wrong during the deorbit, “there was not enough propellant after this launch to ignite the Merlin engine and complete the burn,” so the “propellant was vented into space,” resulting in the “uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere,” Eric Berger reported in Ars Technica.

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A similar event occurred in 2014, when an apparent COPV from a Falcon 9 landed in Brazil. It’s fortunate that no one has ever been hurt in these incidents, which thankfully are rare. To date, SpaceX has completed 111 launches of the Falcon 9, including 71 landings of the first stage and 54 missions involving reflown rockets.

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SpaceX Successfully Launches the Same Falcon 9 Rocket for a Record Ninth Flight

Illustration for article titled SpaceX Successfully Launches the Same Falcon 9 Rocket for a Record Ninth Flight

Photo: SpaceX (Getty Images)

SpaceX successfully launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets into space for a record ninth time on Sunday, making it the first in the company’s fleet to launch and land nine times. The Falcon 9 rocket was carrying a new cargo of 60 Starlink satellites, which are part of the company’s efforts to provide satellite internet.

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The successful launch and landing of this first-stage booster are noteworthy given SpaceX’s objectives when it designed the Falcon 9 rocket. The Falcon 9 was designed to be able to fly 10 times with little or no modifications in between missions. The company currently has two Falcon 9 booster rockets close to the coveted 10 flights, per Space.com, and is closely monitoring the wear and tear each rocket undergoes every time they take off.

The Falcon 9 rocket that the company launched on Sunday had also supported the launch of the Crew Dragon Demo-1, the first unmanned test flight of the Dragon spacecraft; the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, or Canada’s new Earth observation satellites; the SXM-7, SirusXM’s failed satellite that aimed to support its digital radio service; and five other Starlink missions.

SpaceX has sent three batches of Starlink satellites to space over the past two weeks, adding 180 satellites to the more than 1,000 it already has up there. It has two more planned Starlink launches in March.

Nonetheless, company officials have recently said that 10 might not be the “magic number” and that Falcon 9 rockets could possibly make more flights, SpaceNews reported. Once a booster reaches the 10 flight milestone, SpaceX will analyze the booster and make an assessment on whether it can “move forward with it.”

As TechCrunch points out, rocket reuse is especially important for Starlink missions as SpaceX starts to ramp up its satellite internet service. Starlink has 10,000 customers at the moment, although SpaceX recently opened preorders for the service. For a $99 refundable deposit, customers get a Starlink kit that includes a mountable dish antenna, wifi router, and power supply. The entire kit costs $499 and monthly service costs $99 per month.

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It should be said that it’s still unclear whether SpaceX will be able to launch enough satellites to cover the areas it needs to cover and provide reliable internet service. The appears the company is trying, though.

Starlink vs. 5G: Which Could Be the Better Home Internet Service?

Illustration for article titled Starlink vs. 5G: Which Could Be the Better Home Internet Service?

Photo: Theo Wargo (Getty Images)

Reports indicate that Americans are clearly interested in both SpaceX’s Starlink and 5G broadband as potential home internet services. But so far it’s unclear which option has more appeal compared to traditional cable broadband. Some reports show Americans are more interested in Starlink, while others indicate most people are unsure if they would use one over the other, or either at all. The demand for better internet is obviously there due to [gestures at everything], but clearly there’s some confusion as to which type of internet connection will be best. So let’s dive in to clear it up.

First, where you live will probably determine whether you get better internet from Starlink or via 5G. SpaceX’s Starlink is a satellite internet service, which means it works best with a clear view of the sky in wide open spaces. Storms, trees, buildings, snow, or any other natural or man-made obstruction can weaken the signal or drop the internet connection all together. Data packets and other virtual information literally get beamed down from space, so if any of that stuff gets in the way, your internet is probably going to get spotty.

Not only that, but there’s a finite amount of bandwidth that a satellite can provide to users, so too many users connecting to a terminal means slower internet speeds at home. Critics skeptical of Starlink have pointed out those challenges in the months following the FCC’s award of rural broadband funds to the as-yet-unproved service.

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“My concern is not around the capacity of one or two users, but what happens when you get to 20 or 30 or 40 or 50,000 users. Obviously you have to share the same constellation across the entire country,” National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative CEO Tim Bryan said during a recent press conference. “I have no doubt that the Starlink constellation could be successful in some areas, particularly over things like the deep blue seas. I struggle to see how it’s going to reliably deliver 100 megabit service to the hundreds and thousands of customers in the census block groups it bid for.”

5G has an advantage over Starlink in terms of reliable service, because it’s built on top of existing cellular infrastructure. To get 5G service at home, you have to stick an antenna or a small receiver/transmitter on your house, which can then ping a 5G antenna on a nearby cell tower. The 5G signal beams into your home and then a wifi router blankets your space with wireless internet.

People living in rural towns and cities will have a better chance with Starlink, if they can afford it, than they will with 5G, unless telecoms invest in providing service to their areas. People living in rural towns and cities will have a better chance with Starlink, if they can afford it, than they will with 5G, unless telecoms invest in providing service to their areas. For mmWave 5G you need more towers because the higher-frequency speed travels at much shorter distances. For slower, mid- to low-band 5G, the existing towers will do. (Basically, don’t expect to get lightning-fast home internet in rural areas.)

T-Mobile has said it plans to have 9.5 million 5G Home subscribers by 2024. Verizon’s own 5G Home service is still incredibly limited—to specific parts of specific cities—and the carrier hasn’t indicated how many people it hopes to attract.

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Starlink has just 10,000 customers at the moment, although that number might jump rapidly because SpaceX recently opened up preorders for its satellite internet service. Perhaps if or when the company announces its preorder numbers, we’ll have a better idea of demand for its satellite internet service. The company asked for the FCC’s permission to deploy up to 5 million user terminals in August last due to interest. But the question of whether SpaceX will launch enough satellites to cover the areas it needs to cover and provide reliable service remains.

Depending on where you live, either option might not be better than wired broadband or fiber. But for underserved and unserved areas that lack reliable internet service—a problem which effects 19 million Americans—large internet service providers are falling down on the job. It’s no wonder that Starlink sounds appealing—for those folks, satellite internet may seem like the only real option.

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Are you a Starlink customer? Email me at joannanelius@protonmail.com and let me know what your experience has been like.

SpaceX Officially Opens Starlink Preorders

Illustration for article titled SpaceX Officially Opens Starlink Preorders

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

Hopeful Starlink users no longer have to wait for a magical beta invite to use the service. SpaceX has officially opened pre-orders to everyone currently in its service area, reports The Verge.

For a $99 refundable deposit, eligible users who want to give SpaceX’s satellite internet a shot can reserve their spot in line to get a Starlink kit mailed to them. The kit, which costs $499, includes a mountable dish antenna, wifi router, and power supply.

For my area, a sprawling suburb in Southern California, Starlink is planning to start rolling out coverage sometime mid- to late 2021, but it could be different for folks who live elsewhere. Anyone who receives a kit will be notified via email and will have to pay a one-time $499 fee for the kit, plus applicable taxes, shipping and handling. The deposit will go toward the first month of service, but it’s also refundable.

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According to the preorder page, eligible users will receive their kit on a first-come, first-served basis. But depending on location, some orders may take six months or more to fulfill. Placing a deposit does not guarantee service, which is an important caveat to anyone considering signing up for Starlink.

It’s not clear if Starlink means everyone who places a pre-order won’t get a kit to access the network, or if they’re not guaranteeing the same bandwidth speeds for all users. Both seem equally likely, as Starlink will need to have enough kits to go around, and Starlink is not free from the same constraints as other satellite internet services. Basically, you’re just reserving a spot in line.

Customers will need a clear line of sight from their user terminal to Starlink’s satellites, as “users who live in areas with lots of tall trees, buildings, etc. may not be good candidates for early use of Starlink,” says the ISP on its FAQ page. Customers who live in areas with heavy rain, snow, or wind might also experience slower speeds or outages.

Starlink says these things will improve over time as it launches more satellites and installs more ground stations, but those living in wooded, rural areas or areas with extreme weather conditions might not be able to get better satellite internet service from Starlink for the time being.

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Broadband capacity is also an issue as SpaceX grows its satellite constellation. Currently, Starlink has over 10,000 users, and many report getting speeds of 100 Mbps or higher. But the more subscribers it adds to its customer base, the less bandwidth there will be to go around unless it can keep enough satellites in orbit. Starlink currently has more than 1,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Additionally, low-income households in rural areas may not be able to afford a $499 kit fee, plus $99 a month for service that may or may not be reliable in their area. For suburban and urban residents with wired broadband service, there may not be an incentive for them to switch to Starlink if they can get better speeds at a lower cost. Spectrum, for instance, offers gigabit broadband for $110 a month.

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All those issues combined are making rural ISPs skeptical if Starlink will be able to deliver on its promises in the coming years.

And on Monday a tweet from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk at least appeared to acknowledge the struggles of past satellite broadband services.

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Every new satellite constellation in history has gone bankrupt,” he said. “We hope to be the first that does not.”

I guess we’ll find out.

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Regional ISPs Are Skeptical That SpaceX’s Starlink Can Deliver On Its Internet Promises

A SpaceX rocket carrying Starlink satellites a few seconds after launch on June 3, 2020.

A SpaceX rocket carrying Starlink satellites a few seconds after launch on June 3, 2020.
Photo: SpaceX

Some regional internet service providers are urging the FCC to reexamine the recent rural broadband auction process that awarded unproven companies like SpaceX’s Starlink hundreds of millions of dollars to provide reliable broadband access to people in rural areas of the U.S.

Following last week’s call from members of Congress to properly vet Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction winners’ ability to actually provide internet in the areas they promised, several rural electric co-op trade group leaders are continuing to put pressure on the FCC. Some of these electric co-ops provide both electricity and internet service to the area that they serve.

The trade group leaders today expressed concern about the RDOF bidding processes, exposing potential flaws in how the bidding process itself works and why it’s so important that federal dollars go toward ISPs who can actually roll out broadband services in areas they promise to.

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“Some of the largest winners in this RDOF auction prevailed despite submitting bids that use unproven technologies to accomplish the goal of connecting rural communities. That is troubling,” Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), said during a Thursday call with press. “We’re here to call for [the FCC] to…make sure that [ISPs] are not at risk of not being able to deliver on the promises.”

According to Matheson, a number of RDOF bidders in the higher speed categories, like gigabit, bid into those categories with technologies that have not been proven to meet those speeds. SpaceX’s Starlink, for example, bid into the 100/20 Mbps category even though its network is still in beta testing, and won $885 million to deliver internet to rural communities.

National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative CEO Tim Bryan said his electric co-op has heard anecdotal evidence that not all Starlink beta customers are getting great service. Some can’t even maintain a 4 Mbps connection, which is nowhere near the FCC-defined broadband minimum of 25/3 Mbps.

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Midwest Energy & Communications, which has been around since 1980s, used to provide geostationary satellite service to its customers. But according to President and CEO Bob Hance, the co-op quickly moved to a wired broadband solution once it became apparent that “broadband service using satellites could not and would not live up to its promise.” In 2014, MEC started moving toward offering fiber broadband services incorporated with its smart grid efforts. Today, MEC has 2,400 miles of fiber lines providing service to over 15,000 customers, starting at 50 Mbps and going up to symmetrical gigabit speeds.

“Like many others, MEC contends that the blocks were lost to other bidders that cannot and will not be able to deliver the service level claimed in the tier they bid,” Hance said. “MEC further contends that it seems possible that some blocks were bid down for less than ethical reasons.”

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Hance said that the residents of the 30 census blocks MEC lost to other bidders will likely receive inferior service from other ISPs for the next several years.

On Feb. 1, the NRECA wrote to the FCC, asking the agency to undertake a “comprehensive review of the detailed business plans and technical showings in the long-form applications submitted by winning bidders proposing Gigabit tier fixed wireless and hybrid fixed wireless solutions.” The NRECA is also advocating for an in-depth review of winning bidders who proposed low-earth-orbit satellites bidding at the 100/20 Mbps tier, like SpaceX’s Starlink.

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“We’re using the public’s money in the RDOF auction, and it’s designed to be a deployment program for proven technologies, not a research and development experiment for technology that may or not be capable of connecting millions of rural Americans,” Matheson said.

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When ISPs like CenturyLink and Frontier repeatedly fail to meet FCC-mandated broadband rollout deadlines, rural electric co-ops and other small internet providers begin seriously questioning the effectiveness of the RDOF bidding processes. There are clearly some holes in the process, but it remains to be seen if the FCC’s new head, Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, will properly vet every RDOF auction winner to ensure federal funds are being used the way they should be: to close America’s widening digital divide.

Regional ISPs Are Skeptical That SpaceX’s Starlink Can Deliver On Its Internet Promises

A SpaceX rocket carrying Starlink satellites a few seconds after launch on June 3, 2020.

A SpaceX rocket carrying Starlink satellites a few seconds after launch on June 3, 2020.
Photo: SpaceX

Some regional internet service providers are urging the FCC to reexamine the recent rural broadband auction process that awarded unproven companies like SpaceX’s Starlink hundreds of millions of dollars to provide reliable broadband access to people in rural areas of the U.S.

Following last week’s call from members of Congress to properly vet Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction winners’ ability to actually provide internet in the areas they promised, several rural electric co-op trade group leaders are continuing to put pressure on the FCC. Some of these electric co-ops provide both electricity and internet service to the area that they serve.

The trade group leaders today expressed concern about the RDOF bidding processes, exposing potential flaws in how the bidding process itself works and why it’s so important that federal dollars go toward ISPs who can actually roll out broadband services in areas they promise to.

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“Some of the largest winners in this RDOF auction prevailed despite submitting bids that use unproven technologies to accomplish the goal of connecting rural communities. That is troubling,” Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), said during a Thursday call with press. “We’re here to call for [the FCC] to…make sure that [ISPs] are not at risk of not being able to deliver on the promises.”

According to Matheson, a number of RDOF bidders in the higher speed categories, like gigabit, bid into those categories with technologies that have not been proven to meet those speeds. SpaceX’s Starlink, for example, bid into the 100/20 Mbps category even though its network is still in beta testing, and won $885 million to deliver internet to rural communities.

National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative CEO Tim Bryan said his electric co-op has heard anecdotal evidence that not all Starlink beta customers are getting great service. Some can’t even maintain a 4 Mbps connection, which is nowhere near the FCC-defined broadband minimum of 25/3 Mbps.

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Midwest Energy & Communications, which has been around since 1980s, used to provide geostationary satellite service to its customers. But according to President and CEO Bob Hance, the co-op quickly moved to a wired broadband solution once it became apparent that “broadband service using satellites could not and would not live up to its promise.” In 2014, MEC started moving toward offering fiber broadband services incorporated with its smart grid efforts. Today, MEC has 2,400 miles of fiber lines providing service to over 15,000 customers, starting at 50 Mbps and going up to symmetrical gigabit speeds.

“Like many others, MEC contends that the blocks were lost to other bidders that cannot and will not be able to deliver the service level claimed in the tier they bid,” Hance said. “MEC further contends that it seems possible that some blocks were bid down for less than ethical reasons.”

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Hance said that the residents of the 30 census blocks MEC lost to other bidders will likely receive inferior service from other ISPs for the next several years.

On Feb. 1, the NRECA wrote to the FCC, asking the agency to undertake a “comprehensive review of the detailed business plans and technical showings in the long-form applications submitted by winning bidders proposing Gigabit tier fixed wireless and hybrid fixed wireless solutions.” The NRECA is also advocating for an in-depth review of winning bidders who proposed low-earth-orbit satellites bidding at the 100/20 Mbps tier, like SpaceX’s Starlink.

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“We’re using the public’s money in the RDOF auction, and it’s designed to be a deployment program for proven technologies, not a research and development experiment for technology that may or not be capable of connecting millions of rural Americans,” Matheson said.

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When ISPs like CenturyLink and Frontier repeatedly fail to meet FCC-mandated broadband rollout deadlines, rural electric co-ops and other small internet providers begin seriously questioning the effectiveness of the RDOF bidding processes. There are clearly some holes in the process, but it remains to be seen if the FCC’s new head, Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, will properly vet every RDOF auction winner to ensure federal funds are being used the way they should be: to close America’s widening digital divide.

Musk and Bezos Scrap Over Who Gets to Be Space King

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.
Image: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP (AP)

The two wealthiest men in the world—Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos—are bickering about their competing satellite internet projects, in an argument prompted by SpaceX’s recent request to move some Starlink satellites to a lower orbit.

The quarrel is happening as regulators evaluate their respective satellite plans, namely SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper. SpaceX is asking the Federal Communications Commission for permission to position its satellites in lower orbits than initially intended. Amazon has taken exception to this request, arguing that the move would result in excessive satellite interference.

“The facts are simple,” declared Amazon in a statement. “We designed the Kuiper System to avoid interference with Starlink, and now SpaceX wants to change the design of its system.”

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The requested changes “not only create a more dangerous environment for collisions in space, but they also increase radio interference for customers,” claims Amazon. “Despite what SpaceX posts on Twitter, it is SpaceX’s proposed changes that would hamstring competition among satellite systems.” The Bezos-led company said it’s “clearly in SpaceX’s interest to smother competition in the cradle if they can, but it is certainly not in the public’s interest.”

In a tweet, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded: “It does not serve the public to hamstring Starlink today for an Amazon satellite system that is at best several years away from operation.”

Musk, who also runs Tesla, recently surpassed Jeff Bezos as the richest person in the world, with a net worth of $182.9 billion.

It is SpaceX’s intention to deploy an internet constellation consisting of 12,000 Starlink satellites and possibly many more. The purpose of the project is to provide high-speed internet to paying customers at any location on Earth. The company launched a public beta last year, which consists of an initial $499 startup fee for the requisite hardware followed by $99 each month. Forbes estimates that Starlink could eventually be valued at around $30 billion. Some scientists fear that the Starlink constellation, which currently consists of over 1,000 satellites, will interfere with astronomical observations and increase the chances of a collision with other satellites or space debris.

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For Project Kuiper, Amazon hopes to place 3,236 satellites across three orbital planes in low Earth orbit, the lowest of which will be at 367 miles (590 km) above the surface. Kuiper would be in direct competition with Starlink, as it likewise seeks to deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband internet to paying customers. Amazon has yet to launch a single Kuiper satellite, but the FCC authorized the project in July 2020.

In a recent presentation to the FCC, SpaceX director David Goldman claimed that Amazon has organized “30 meetings to oppose SpaceX” but none to “authorize its own system,” reports CNBC. Last month, Amazon asked the FCC to limit the height of Starlink satellites to 360 miles (580 km), claiming that SpaceX satellites are working just fine above this altitude, according to CNBC.

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And with this, Musk and Bezos are going at it, with each billionaire doing his best to stifle the other. I could say something cynical about all of this, but I’m sure you get the picture.

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So instead I’ll try to be positive and claim that competition leads to technological advancement and enhanced consumer choice. And in this case, we should also be happy that broadband internet will soon be made available to people living in rural and remote communities or anyone who finds themselves off the beaten path.

The question we should be asking ourselves, however, is whether it’ll be worth the cost of further cluttering Earth orbit—after all, humans don’t exactly have the best track record at responsibly using natural resources.

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