By SUZANNE DOWNING
Look up in the night sky this month: It’s the Geminids meteor shower putting on a show … or it just might be a Starlink satellite orbiting to provide communications connectivity to rural America.
For good or ill, America is increasingly dependent on digital connectivity. But as West and East coasts have locked in high speed broadband, vast portions of rural America were left behind, struggling with unreliable or nonexistent internet access.
Enter Starlink, the game-changing space-based satellite broadband by SpaceX, which is revolutionizing communications across rural America, while improving internet speeds for Flyover States that President Joe Biden will never win in 2024.
Yet, in the face of innovation, progress, Elon Musk’s own private capital investment, and provable successes of Starlink’s low-orbit satellites, Biden’s Federal Communications Commission is telling Musk to take a hike. The FCC wants fiber optic cable at great cost, not Starlink at a lower cost.
It all traces back to President Biden’s vendetta against Musk, which ramped up to warp speed after Musk’s acquisition of X/Twitter in 2022, when Musk unleashed, almost overnight, the world’s most vibrant free-speech platform.
Musk has used that platform to throw a few deserved digs at the Biden Administration for its suppression of free speech under the previous Twitter ownership.
The billionaire entrepreneur, once he looked into the files at Twitter, produced the receipts to show that the federal government had been continuously collaborating with social media giants Twitter and Facebook to suppress the speech of conservatives.
Biden worries about public sentiment turning against him, and he’s trying to cripple Musk by proxy through federal agencies, according to Trump-appointed FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who is in the minority on the commission.
Biden’s statements a year ago about how Musk’s cooperation with foreign countries were “worthy of being looked at” in “a lot of way” gave a green light for government agencies to initiate investigations into all-things Musk World.
The Department of Justice, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and even the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service initiated investigations into Musk or his businesses, Commissioner Carr said in his letter of dissent.
This relentless hounding of Musk looks an awful lot like regulatory harassment.
The three Democrats who comprise the majority on the five-member FCC, in denying a grant for satellite launches, claim that Starlink simply failed to meet their standards. Carr says those standards couldn’t be met by anyone, ever, and are being applied solely to Starlink.
Consider Starlink’s recent track record:
When Russia disabled Ukraine’s internet, Starlink swiftly deployed low-orbit satellites, providing critical connectivity to the embattled nation.
In the Gaza strip, Starlink offered humanitarian aid with the approval of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, after Hamas had started a war with Israel and Netanyahu disabled internet in Gaza so Hamas could not use it for terrorism communications.
The Starlink service also came to the rescue of Tonga after a volcano erupted, severing communication lines in December, 2021.
Starlink stepped in to restore internet service to Alaska’s Arctic coastline after an undersea fiber optic cable was cut by moving ice in June of this year, leaving isolated communities stranded without internet access for months.
These actions by Starlink were undertaken without government subsidies. But even Musk’s billions can only go so far. Right now, the federal government says it is trying to expand broadband in America, and it looks like it will help anyone, at any cost, so long as their name is not Elon Musk.
Starlink’s satellite megaconstellation is made up of over 5,000 operational satellites, now delivering high-speed internet to millions across the world in 40 countries and counting. This technology represents a giant leap forward in connectivity, especially for disadvantaged areas, like Alaska.
Yet in Alaska, the feds just awarded one tribal group – Tanana Chiefs Conference — a $35 million grant that costs U.S. taxpayers $365,000 for each household hooked up to fiber in three villages, Venetie (pop. 126 with 39 households), Chalkyitsik (pop. 118, with 40 households), and Circle (pop. 42, with 17 households).
Then, the taxpayers will also underwrite the maintenance and operations of these fiber optic systems to these communities of less than 100 households.
In Nuiqsut, Alaska, where there are 125 households, the cost-per-household, born by U.S. taxpayers, is $320,000.
Alaska is a perfect place for space-based satellite internet. The fiber optic plan is nowhere near sufficient for the geography. Other parts of America, even those not at the edge of the world like Alaska, are also well-suited for this leapfrog technology.
It is time for the FCC to put aside political vendettas and embrace progress.
Suzanne Downing is founder and managing editor of Must Read Alaska.