SpaceX has agreed to provide Internet service to 45 families in a Texas school district in early 2021 and to an additional 90 families later, the school district announced the week. An announcement by the Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) in Odessa said it would be “the first school district to use SpaceX satellites to provide Internet for students.”
“The project will initially provide free Internet service to 45 families in the Pleasant Farms area of southern Ector County,” the district said. “As network capabilities continue to grow, it will expand to serve an additional 90 Ector County families.”
The Texas location is notable because the ongoing, limited Starlink beta is only in the Northern US, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that the upcoming public beta will only be for the Northern US and “hopefully” Southern Canada. SpaceX has more than 700 Starlink satellites in orbit and will be able to expand the operational area as it adds more than the nearly 12,000 that it has authorized to launch. In Washington state, Starlink has been deployed to rural homes, remote communities, and emergency responders and families in wildfire areas.
The ECISD announcement said the project would begin “early 2021” without saying exactly when, however article by the Odessa American newspaper said that it will be in January. The total cost of the project is $300,000, half of which is provided by Leaders for Change, a nonprofit group for school-district leaders, according to the Odessa American. Eligible families will receive free Internet service for one year, the report said.
It’s not clear if any of the money will go to SpaceX. The school district has some costs, as it plans to “identify the families (that will be employed) and facilitate the delivery of the necessary equipment to those homes.”
No word on other Southern US locations yet
The timeline for Starlink’s expanded presence in South America is unknown. We asked SpaceX if it plans to deploy Starlink to any Southern locations in early 2021, and for more details on when the service will be available across the United States. We will update this article if we receive more information.
In August 2019, SpaceX outlined a plan in which each SpaceX launch of 60 satellites would take the satellites to “three different orbital planes” instead of one, “speeding up the process of moving satellites covering the operational area that is broad.” At the time, SpaceX told the FCC this change “will likely” allow it to broadcast in South America by the end of 2020.
As ECISD points out, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of home Internet for students who have to learn and complete assignments from home when in-person classes are not available. Stories of children sitting outside schools, libraries, and McDonald’s stores to use Wi-Fi, either because their families cannot afford broadband or it is not available where they live, has been a common disappointment.
“When COVID-19 forced the closure of school buildings last spring, it really brought to the fore just how big the digital divide is in Ector County,” the ECISD announcement said. “As ECISD leaders conducted surveys of teachers, students, and families, they found that 39 percent of families do not have limited access to the Internet. SpaceX Starlink satellite technology will provide High-speed, low-cost wireless Internet to areas where that type of access is not currently available or affordable.”
In a recent updated SpaceX gave to the FCC, the company said that the Starlink beta is now available in several US states and that it is “providing services to previously unserved students in rural areas.” SpaceX said it “prioritizes emergency responders and situations where there is no Internet connection at all.”
SpaceX’s use of low-orbits is resulting in better latency than traditional broadband satellites in geostationary orbits. SpaceX told the FCC that Starlink’s latency has always been “well below 40-50ms round trip to the Internet.” Traditional satellite services, meanwhile, provide much worse latencies around 600ms.
SpaceX recently asked the FCC for permission to deploy up to 5 million consumer terminals, indicating that the service could eventually reach up to 5 million homes and businesses in the US.
Image listing by SpaceX