An investment in satellite is a Band-Aid, not a cure

The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports…

“The federal government is about to spend more than $120 million on subsidies that, rather than improving rural connectivity, will make tens of thousands of families worse off.

These funds are part of a 2018 federal program intended to expand rural broadband access called the Connect America Fund phase II (CAF II) reverse auction. The program, in which Internet access providers competed for subsidies, will distribute nearly $1.5 billion over the next 10 years to connect unserved rural residents. But in some communities, the auction may do more to widen the digital divide than diminish it.

While some winning bidders committed to building out high-speed fiber optic networks, satellite company Viasat will rake in more than $120 million in subsidies to continue providing inadequate geostationary satellite connectivity to rural households that are clamoring for something better. Not only does satellite Internet access offer slower speeds, greater latency, and less reliability for a higher cost compared to other technologies, but Viasat’s subsidies are making those areas ineligible for future broadband funds, deterring other providers from building truly high-quality networks. Instead of bridging the digital divide, the process will relegate certain communities to satellite Internet access while others receive ultra-fast fiber and do nothing more than deepen the fissure.”

As you can see from the map, Minnesota doesn’t have any blocks assigned to Viasat. And because of that I nearly walked by this story, except yesterday I was a press conference where Governor Walz announced the 2019 MN Broadband grant awards. A reporter asked if the grants only went to fiber networks, because he had heard there had been great advances in satellite.

I think Commissioner Grove answered by talking about fixed wireless. (Grants have gone to fixed wireless projects in the past, not to satellite.)

The press conference was not the time or place to talk about limitations of satellite – but it was a reminder that there are some strong proponents of satellite and there’s a story out there that it is a viable, long term, public-investment-worthy technology. There is a place for satellite. It will serve users with limited requirements in areas where nothing else is available but it won’t serve a community of users and therefore it doesn’t make sense for public investment.

This entry was posted in Funding, Satellite by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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