Starlink, the satellite broadband service from SpaceX, reportedly has won a deal to provide service to families in rural Texas. The SpaceX Starlink deal is with school district Ector County ISD and calls for the company to provide service initially to 45 families beginning in January 2021, with the possibility of adding 90 additional families at a future date.
Eligible families are those who have poor or no internet access available to them, a report published at govtech.com explains. Service will be free for one year, thanks in part to Chiefs for Change, a national philanthropic organization that is covering half the $300,000 cost of the offering.
Satellite broadband traditionally has been a better-than-nothing kind of service for rural areas with few or no other broadband options. Traditionally, service has been provided by geostationary satellites that are so distant from the earth’s surface that communications signals experience higher latency in comparison with terrestrial offerings including fiber and wireless options.
Starlink aims to address this limitation using a non-geostationary low-earth orbit approach that relies on more satellites located closer to Earth. If the technology performs as expected, and depending on cost, the service would seem to have strong appeal at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgent need for rural families wanting to use distance learning, telemedicine and other applications requiring broadband.
Satellite broadband’s chief advantage is that once the satellites are ready to support service, new customers can be added more quickly in comparison with terrestrial based services.
The Texas deal could be a bellwether of what’s in store for non-geostationary satellite broadband. Will it live up to promises or disappoint the market?
SpaceX Starlink and RDOF
The news comes just two days before SpaceX Starlink gets set to bid in the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, which will award funding to cover some of the costs of providing high-speed broadband to unserved rural areas.
A weighting system will be used to favor bids for lower-latency, higher-speed services. And while geostationary satellite service is considered higher-latency, SpaceX Starlink won a key victory when the FCC declined to categorically prevent low-earth-orbit satellite broadband providers from bidding to provide low-latency service.
It’s worth noting that a weighting system did not prevent geostationary satellite broadband provider Viasat from being one of the big winners in the Connect America Fund CAF II Auction, which also awarded funding for rural broadband. However, the weighting system for the RDOF auction is more favorable for lower-latency bidders.