SpaceX on Monday announced the launch of Starlink in Alaska, a high-speed satellite internet service that advocates say will reach every corner of the state.
Alaskans who signed up for the service said they want to try it. They expect it to provide faster, cheaper service than GCI, the state’s largest telecommunications company.
But Starlink is one of several team efforts that could transform telecommunications in the state, where more than 200 villages lack state-quality internet service.
SpaceX, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, builds and launches rockets that will deliver weapons into space, including internet satellites. SpaceX’s Starlink uses a series of low earth orbit satellites to send high-speed signals to earth. It recently received glowing reviews from the Pentagon after it was discovered that the US military is providing high data and connectivity rates at remote Arctic bases.
North Pole resident Bert Somers said Monday that he would only pay attention to B. In an interview, he said he was further out of town as a wire-tap delivered by IK.
On Monday, Somers recently arrived with a Starlink disk on his roof. He first tried it in a snowy spot outside his home, chronicled in his family’s YouTube video blog, “Somers in Alaska.”
Starlink Internet is fast but the signal drops every few minutes, usually for several seconds, Somers said. Starlink expects to improve as more satellites are deployed.
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“I’m going to promise, but I don’t know if we’re firing on all cylinders at this point,” he said.
Another concern is operational limits that do not exceed 22 degrees below zero, according to Starlink’s mandate, Somers said. The winter temperature in Alaska can be lower than that, but you can use a small heater in the future to heat the dish if needed, he said.
The standard cost is $600 for the shoes. It’s $110 a month, cheaper than broadband in the city, Somers said. Once the signal is good enough, he can save money by ditching two cellphone providers, which he and his wife, Jessica, said are due to slow home internet use.
“We don’t have much else here, so I’m pretty excited about it,” he said. “I think this is going to happen, and this will make the rest of the internet companies consider their price if this is going to be their competition.”
A level playing field for rural Alaska
Heather Handyside, speaking with GCI, said the company believes fiber-based internet is the best way to deliver the fastest speeds and virtually unlimited data to customers. The company is actively extending the yarn to further markets, she said.
The company also built a broadband network that delivers internet across much of rural Alaska.
Handyside said GCI also recognizes that fiber-based internet is not possible for many of Alaska’s most remote communities. IK has agreed to rely on satellite providers to help provide better service in remote areas, he said.
“We are excited about the potential of low earth orbit satellites to connect the most remote parts of Alaska, and we have been following as Starlink and other LEO-based providers develop this new technology,” he said in a prepared statement.
Handyside said the cost and speed of GCI’s internet plans vary, depending on how the internet is delivered at the location, such as fiber or broadband. Rural plans range between $60 and $300.
Rural residents often complain that the costs go much higher, because they say that data limits can often be exceeded quickly.
John Wallace, a technology contractor in Bethel, the largest community in western Alaska, said he recently got a notification from Starlink saying his gear was on the way.
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When it arrives, its internet service will be several times faster than what IK currently offers in Bethel, a third of the price and much more data, he said.
Waleys and others say Starlink will spread opportunities in rural Alaska, where many communities still struggle with the sometimes slow pace of the clock. The ability and capacity of the internet to improve substantially will drastically lower costs for businesses, households and local governments, they say.
Caesar said Starlink will bring the ability to the home that only schools and clinics previously enjoyed. More people will be able to work in commerce, remote work, teaching and many other fields.
“There are very few things that we get in rural Alaska that allow us to stand on the same level as everyone else, and this is one of them,” Wallace said.
Starlink is not the first in Alaska
Another low-Earth-orbiting satellite internet service in Alaska has been in place for more than a year, via OneWeb London satellites, said Shawn Williams with Pacific Dataport in Anchorage.
Pacific Dataport provides broadband internet service to some towns, Williams said.
That includes Akiak, a resident of D, in the district of Bethel.
That internet has given families in Akiak a fast, cheap broadband option in the village, allowing many to access their homes, said Mike Williams, Akiak tribal chairman and a relative of Shawn Williams. He also chairs the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Tribal Broadband Consortium, which sells a OneWeb signal to many village families for $75 a month, he said.
Mike Williams said there are still glitches with the signal, but he said they are rare and are being addressed quickly. He said the service was better over time.
“We’ve seen a lot of home support tools through YouTube,” Mike Williams said. “We were seeing economic development options, like people selling skins and crafts. Kids are using it for education, and we have Zoom facilities. And hopefully when we have some health issues, we can get that information online that deals with our health.
Early next year, Pacific Dataport also plans to launch its high-tech satellite, Aurora 4A, as a service satellite across Alaska, Shawn Williams said.
The fiber comes to many towns
In other efforts, the federal government has awarded about $700 million to companies and tribes for new Internet programs, with a focus on expanding the backbone of the fiber optic backbone in the state, according to officials with the Alaska Broadband office.
That cache will reach about 80 more Alaskan communities in the coming years. Communities are now being saved or thought to be saved because they completely lack speed.
Much of the federal money comes from a giant bipartisan infrastructure act passed by Congress last year.
The state broadcasting office, created earlier this year, also plans to get more federal funding to bring high-speed to more rural areas, said Thomas Lochner, the office’s director.
“We have a very strong opportunity to close the digital divide within the state,” Lochner said. “With the transformational funding the federal government brings to the state to connect all these communities, within the next 10 years I predict 100% of Alaska communities will be equipped with a robust system.”
GCI is part of a $73 million partnership to deliver fiber to Bethel and several other towns, reaching more than 10,000 people in Southwest Alaska. It’s just one of the projects receiving federal funding.
The service at Bethel in 2024 will be followed by other communities, Handyside said.
Shawn Williams said fiber in Alaska is too expensive to get on a per-family basis, especially compared to the new satellite-based internet.
“When we run fiber, it’s not cheap, and when we do satellite broadband, it’s very cost-effective and deployment is much faster, without any environmental impact studies,” he said.
Fiber-based service won’t be able to reach new villages for another few years or more, Mike Williams Akiak said. That means satellite-based broadband is the best option in many cases at the moment, either through OneWeb or SpaceX satellites, he said.
He said last year, “It’s amazing to have a web site,” he said.
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