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.