satellite data exchange (sdecoret/Shutterstock.com)

NC counties test satellite broadband

Three rural North Carolina counties are participating in a pilot program aimed at improving internet access for families of school-age children via the SpaceX Starlink service.

The Satellite Internet Technologies for Student Connectivity Pilot will allow students in Hyde, Swain and Warren counties to access the Starlink internet service, thanks to support from the North Carolina Department of Information Technology Broadband Infrastructure Office, the Friday Institute at NC State University and a number of other partners.

By 2024, Starlink plans to provide high-speed internet service via a constellation of 4,400 low earth orbit satellites, capable of providing high-speed internet to residents in remote areas. In January 2020, the company was awarded $885 million from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to deliver broadband and standalone voice services in 35 states. In a Feb. 3 filing with the Federal Communications Commission, the company said it currently has over 1,000 satellites in orbit, “surpassing the size necessary to provide uninterrupted coverage to much of the United States.”

Starlink satellites are over 60 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites, resulting in lower latency and the ability to support services typically not possible with traditional satellite internet, according to the company’s website.

 The satellites communicate with a ground station network consisting of dozens of gateways connected to fiber across the country. Beta customers need a Starlink user terminal, power supply and Wi-Fi router that cost $499 upfront, plus a $99 monthly fee for service.  For the North Carolina pilots, families will receive the Starlink equipment through a contract with the school system, according to a report in Mountain Times.

Through the pilot, school districts will be able to test the feasibility of the service for K-12 students who live in areas with no broadband infrastructure or reliable cellular service. Starlink will be “testing is to see what level of loss might there be, what kind of latency might there be, what download and upload speeds are they going to have,” Swain County Schools Superintendent Mark Sale told the Mountain Times. “They’re going to require families to do speed tests on occasion, things like that. It’s all part of the agreement.”

“By using the Starlink service, these remote students will soon have equal access to the educational resources of their peers who live in more densely populated areas,”  Friday Institute Technology Infrastructure Lab Director Ray Zeisz said. “We will be conducting performance measurements and monitoring service reliability to ensure future state funding for rural broadband expansion includes all technology options that meet the requirements, in the most cost-effective manner.” 

The pilot is supported by $264,000 in CARES Act funding and will foster research, analysis and the development of recommendations on the use of satellite technologies that may help reduce the homework gap, improve rural health care and further rural economic development. 

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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