Does Starlink work in your area? If so, did the federal government just waste $660 million on Alaska broadband?

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Must Read Alaska has heard from homeowners in rural areas of the Kenai Peninsula, villages in the Bethel region, and a couple of businesses in Bristol Bay: Alaskans off the beaten path have already hooked up to the new Starlink satellite internet system and they tell Must Read Alaska it’s working great for them.

It may not work for everybody, but the Starlink satellite internet seems to work best in rural areas, where the demand is lower than in urban areas. The satellites are small and have a small terrain coverage footprint; in urban areas, the demand on them may exceed their abilities as time goes on.

The new satellite internet in Alaska may be a game-changer, but people will have to pay for it. There’s an initial fee for the dish receiver and then $110 a month for the service, or about $3.36 a day. It’s also not the only game in town. There’s Alaska Satellite Internet, One Web Leo, and Pacific Dataport, covering the earth, including much of Alaska.

Meanwhile, over the past three years the federal government has awarded over $600 million grants to Alaska entities to build out broadband internet in areas of Alaska that have been without it. Even with that investment, there are about 150 communities that are still not served. For the ones that have been connected with the help of federal funds, some of the hookups have cost incredible amounts. For 270 households in Yakutat, for instance, it cost nearly $70,000 per household.

In one of the rounds of USDA funding for broadband, the 1,741 Alaska households cost $121,000 each to hook up.

In the last round of USDA funding that went to Tanana Chiefs Conference, four communities got broadband for a total of 75 households at a cost of $404,000 per household.

That’s where StarLink and other companies come in. Elon Musk’s Starlink company is going direct to the consumer, cutting out the middle man. While there are still middle-mile providers in Alaska that use satellites, with capacity sold through local entities, in a part of the world where there are regional communication monopolies, this StarLink breakthrough provides competition. With competition comes lower prices and innovation. It also may pose a real challenge to Alaska communications companies and telephone cooperatives.

“Alaska’s geography, terrain, climate, and vast size create significant obstacles to developing broadband infrastructure,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, earlier this year. Murkowski is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “We know the digital divide is especially pronounced across rural Alaska and in Native villages. Yet, broadband is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity for modern life, providing access to health care, education, and more.”

Internet speed levels the playing field so that people can grow businesses in rural Alaska.

It’s still unclear whether the hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds was like offering transistor radios to people who had moved on to smart phones. But the federal money came to Alaska and now many communities will have a belts-and-suspenders solution to internet connectivity. It may be the start of a lot of great Alaska-based businesses in remote parts of the state, businesses that cannot otherwise compete in a world of high-speed internet.

Is Starlink working for you? Put your comments and reviews of it in the comment section below.

51 COMMENTS

    • NO. The government didn’t waste money—I live in rural western Washington; Starlink is a BAD EXPENSIVE JOKE. What started as a great hope is now a FLOP. Oversold and now data capped. From 4pm to 12am speeds fall to DSL rate each night. Frustrating to say the least.

      • Very interesting you are having that problem. It’s working perfectly for at least 20 people I know and most of them are on pitching fishing boats. My brother lives in a canyon in eastern Washington and his starlink is awesome.

  1. We will see broadband chaos. The extent of subsidies will provide handsome rewards for some and no (or even negative) benefits for others. No subsides exist for urban areas and urban service will not improve. (Discrimination against urban Alaska may be unlawful but that is a subject for another day.) The extent to which the Congressional delegation panders to the “digital divide” in rural areas is nauseating.

  2. Think about it. Even if you are not a Starlink Subscriber it is still working for you.

    It makes those massive government subsidies look foolish and unnecessary.

  3. Starlink as of right now, cannot compete with the bandwidth capabilities of GCI. Starlink offers at absolute best 25MBs connections (200 Mbs) versus GCI that offers 125MBs (2 Gbs). While GCI connections regularly do not hit the highest level of bandwidth, it is very typical to observer 90-100MBs connection speeds, or around 4 times the speed of what Starlink currently offers.

    What starlink offers is wonderful for any user outside of GCI’s service area, but for those within GCI’s area and have a houshold size of more than 1 person, there is no alternative product available that can compete with them. Starlink has a very high startup cost of $600 and $110 per month, versus GCI’s pricing of $180 per month. So in 8 months, you have made your operating costs back when compared to GCI’s internet, but you are then paying 60% of the cost of GCI’s internet, for 25% of the capability.

    In other words, to answer Suzanne’s posed question, there is plenty of reason to appreciate the $660 Million Federal investment, as is has significantly better service levels than the private entity’s offering, for now at least, and with GCI pursuing 10Gbs (assuming having at least a slice of that federal pie) I see that it will be well worth it. Just like coaxial cable in the 70s and 80s, just like phone lines in the 1920s, Government infrastructure investment paves the way for private entities to enter into established systems.

    • First of all, the startup costs for Federally subsidized broadband is at least $50,000 per household and in many cases far more than $100,000 per household.

      Second, for the majority of communities in Alaska, there is no GCI at any speed.

      Third, in the communities we are discussing, there never was any ‘government’ phone line installed and no ‘government’ coax either. It was never installed because the potential for return as too small to justify the investment. Those communities were just too small. That was true then, its true today and will be true tomorrow.

      • You have that wrong because in rural communities in Alaska we pay outrageous prices for a 10mbps download and 2mbps upload. We don’t ever see full speed and I pay over $300 a month with only 100 gigs of data usage. You must be located in an urban area where GCI has fiber. At most my speeds are less than 5mbps download and never see full speed of 10mbps.

    • What specifically does rural family need 2Gps speeds for? You can support online gaming at 5% of that throughput rate and to assume that anyone needs a 2gps resi connection in the bush is like saying everyone in Barrow needs a Ferrari. Completely inapplicable and inappropriate.

      The correct response is that the $660mm is a waste of taxpayer money and will now benefit no one.

    • Starlink speeds are more than sufficient for the great majority of personal and small business uses in Alaska or elsewhere. Gbps vs. Mbps is a pointless debate ( most users won’t notice the difference in speed between Starlink and GCI), when the real question is which provides better access to usable internet that is widely available literally anywhere in Alaska. AN important consideration for some may be who’s money you are required to spend – your own or “the government’s” (everybody else’s). The pork would have been better and more fully utilized if it were keeping up with technology and working with private enterprise.

    • The service speeds GCI broadband you are referring to is likely in Anchorage or very nearby? In rural Alaska, just as the article is referring to, Starlink speeds and prices are significantly faster (4-10x) and cheaper than what is available. Reddit has great Starlink Alaska forums where the reviews have been outstanding. In my area, Starlink will be nearly half the cost.

  4. I find all of this extremely ironic as fiber optic was just laid here on the island right in front of my house. Too little too late. This is the problem with depending on big government and glad handing Murkowski pandering for votes at the cost of taxpayers and collusion with the cruise industry to expand cellular and WiFi to cruise ships. Starlink has been a game changer here in Coffman Cove Prince of Wales Island. Previously we used HughesNet. HughesNet was slow you could not stream or conduct Zoom meetings or download without using up your data. I use GCI for my home in Sitka and it is unreliable and slow so I definitely think Starlink is better. Since my Starlink dish is the size of a laptop and router is light and compact I will likely ditch my GCI in Sitka. Absolutely recommend to my Alaskan neighbors.

  5. I’m sure that the people in these communities would rather have a check for $50,000 than internet. They could then spend it on skylink or groceries and stove oil, or whatever they desire. Or all the above.

  6. I think I mentioned this a long time ago, but Murkowski had to funnel more graft to her donors who are in the “infrastructure” racket

  7. Follow the money.
    Politicians cannot make enough syphoning off Starlink. Starlink could be in every bush home within months versus years if even then for the fiber boondoggle. Write to Alaska’s senators and point this out. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a reply.

  8. As a resident of one of those four villages mentioned in this article, I suggest the numbers are not quite that extreme. I don’t count households – that is the census people’s job. What I count is about 500 people who have been frozen out of current technology by the paucity of people in a large remote area where there is no cell phone service (2 of those 4 villages) and the internet is slow HughesNet gen2. Hughes was good 15 years ago… It was “broadband” – meaning 1 satellite covered all of Alaska. Hughes Gen5 took the same satellite and focused spot beams on the population centers. Starlink is welcome and relatively inexpensive, but the numbers I saw with Beta testing showed that Starlink would not be much improvement over Hughes and almost twice as expensive expensive. The fiber optics route would improve snowmachine access for the villages downriver from Bettles and Evansville as well as the comm link – do I dare say “road”?. The cable is really expensive – by population, about $60,000 per – but the promise made was kept, though late. Compared to the Quintillion cable up the pipeline, this is very cheap per mile. The Bush will always be dependent if we don’t provide infrastructure. Alaska needs the Bush economy to thrive for the State to thrive. This deal is actually a bargain, compared to GCI wanting 50 million to put an earth station in one village and wanting 5 million per year in revenue to keep it working. I’m still on Hughes Gen2… for now. The villages would not have asked for anything else if Starlink lived up to its hype.

    • Starlink is just now reaching Alaska this fall / winter, so it wasn’t an option until now. I am a Hughes installer – your comments about Gen 2 are appropriate, but the Gen 2 system is not operating off from the same satellite as Gen 5. Gen 5 is an entirely different satellite, but only covers the urbanized areas of Alaska and anything within it’s “extended beam ( overrun of their target areas). I live 160 miles SW of Fairbanks and my cabin is 50 miles from the nearest neighbor and I am running Hughesnet Gen 5 from 2 deep cycle batteries, getting 25-45 mbps with data, and 3-9 mbps throttled for $70/month. It is stable and consistent, and uses little energy – but not all of Alaska has coverage. In my opinion, you should try starlink – I suspect you will be surprised. If you are running Gen 2 Hughes, it will be like going from candles to electric lighting (while I am on a Coleman lantern!)

  9. For quite some time, I have been trying to get GCI but I was not grand fathered so they say. The government waited way far too long to help people get internet. There are some of us couldn’t wait. By the time I get internet where I live I’ll probably die.

  10. Out here at King Salmon, GCI data speed is at best a joke, and beyond belief stalls to dial up speeds too much of the time. They claim up to 6 mbps download and 2 mbps uploads on the fastest plan, but rarely gets close to those speeds. Data over cell towers is the worst. The price is from $100 and up per month. Need better service.

  11. We have starlink hooked up in fairbanks as no gci or acs service to our address. It works great 100mb plus does when it works but there are outages all throughout the day ranging from a minute to an hour. They happen at regular intervals due to gaps in the satellites in our polar orbit and should get better with time.

  12. I hope all recognize that functional internet is like electricity became for rural America in the 1930s.

    Speed, capacity, durability, reliability, and upgrade ability are essential components. At this point in time, fiber is the most future proof method. Low earth orbit (LEO) satellites have a roughy 7 year lifespan.

    With limited users on Starlink at this point, one might get acceptable speeds in today’s world, but long term, less likely. Even with LEO technology, latency can be an issue.

    The article didn’t compare the cost of implementing Starlink by SpaceX nor those inherent limitations of the technology.

    My impression of the federal agencies charged with getting Americans connected is one of doing their best to insure due diligence on projects to insure money isn’t wasted.

    I agree the federal investments in funding broadband infrastructure projects seem high, but one should amortize the capital expense over the life of the investment for a truer picture of the basic economics.

  13. This is as braindead as government can get. It’s timing was right before mid term elections, it allowed Senator Lyman Hoffman to steer a $75 Million contract to his Native Corporation, that he’s the paid chairman of the board, too hook up 9 small Villages and his last hometown of Bethel.

    It’s $670 for the package to reach me in Quinhagak. Divide $670 into $75 Million for Lymans Bethel contract.

    You’ll see that the State could of purchased over a 110 thousand Starlink packages. That’s easily enough, with just this one contract to supply a free Dish Package to anyone in all of the State, that’s not already on 5G, like Anchorage and Fairbanks.

    This is just another example of criminal legislation for and by the status quo legislators in Juneau.

    So, no, Bidens build back better is braindead spending at best.

    • Good comments. Many commenters keep opining that this type of bloated government investment in communication infrastructure will “pave the way” for the future (I would like to hear how they envision this coming from the households mentioned in the article), or even talk about the problem of a limited lifespan of a single satellite in a growing constellation of satellites as though those crying foul are missing something. Money was wasted, there’s no way around it. Whether for political or other even-less noble reasons, I don’t know, but if the American People were shareholders in a corporation, somebody would be looking for a new job.

  14. The existing providers in Elim Alaska ” is at best a joke” an expensive joke. Starlink will get better over time, as more satellites cover the artic. Sometime in the future when more and more people get Starlink service in Alaska we will see efforts to meter bandwidth and get slowed down with rush hour traffic. Nome has an optical connection and it’s fast but expensive.

  15. GCI devolved from a great telecom company to a crappy cable company that cannot deliver anything close to what they claim. And that claim of saving us money by their conversion to streaming TV was air talk. The price increases by $5/month every couple months, and the service is genuinely sh..ty.

  16. Another advantage to many Alaskans is the ability to access the internet not just on land boat on our fishing boats, especially real time weather data. We home schooled our children on our family fishing boat several months every school year until high school, had we had Starlink then we could’ve continued. Independent lifestyles, hunting, fishing etc is an Alaskan way of life and Starlink is a great advantage to making those activities safer and more efficient allowing us to enjoy our freedom even more! It must be shut off while in transit, but once the anchor is down we can check in with our market, product shipments, order parts or supplies and so much more.

  17. The math shows that a Starlink could be purchased and the monthly paid for for each household on POW for 19 years at speed 2-3 times that which APT has stated for its fiber to finally be installed in 2023. And they will surely charge a monthly. Other villages show like numbers.

    Nonetheless, it is important to have that fiber ring. Just as important as a road system, a ferry system, barges, long distance, a coast guard.

    An electromagnetic pulse, the Kessler effect, anchors in fiber, high winds on a Hughes dish, can put whole systems down.

    While the corporate welfare remains suspect, the need for the service grows exponentially. And the absolute need for redundancy.

  18. Starlink is working great in bethel Alaska for $120 to $135 with 25 mps to 350 mps. Gci is only $300 for 1 mps to 8 mps for 200 gigs. So tell how is gci better?

  19. Starlink is not usable at this time for my remote homestead near Nenana. I am sending it back for a refund before my thirty days is up…

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