At the Blandin Broadband conference today, We talked about two reports on Surveys, Data and Stories to Inform Policy and Investment (Analysis of Accelerate Survey Results and East Central MN Broadband Stories Report ).
The discussion spurred a lot of text chat from attendees on Starlink that seemed worth pulling out of the regular agenda:
10:16:18 From Jim Yount to Everyone: I would like today’s discussions to explore how full public release of Starlink relates to the broadband issues we’ve been talking about for years. Very good internet is now available everywhere in MN with a decent view of the sky… as long as you can afford it. Availability is effectively no longer an issue. Equitability/affordability is now the major issue for access. We still want to expand the fiber/cable to the home and ISP competition, but some funders and communities are now at least somewhat more likely to say “what’s the point now that there’s Starlink?”
10:17:05 From Scott Cole-Collectivity to Everyone: once they’re the full constellation the latency will be down to 10ms
10:17:06 From Lezlie Sauter to Everyone: I signed up for Starlink 6 months ago and have yet to receive the equipment, so it’s not truly accessible yet.
10:18:33 From Jim Yount to Everyone: True they are still ramping up capacity and performance, but it’s still a game changer and it’s important to discuss how Starlink influences the internet access landscape.
10:23:42 From Bill Coleman to Everyone: These are good questions around Starlink. It is a tech marvel. I have read about their actual full capacity to serve millions of rural customers. Jim’s question about affordability as a primary barrier is also interesting, especially as the feds fund the EBB program now with more direct consumer subsidy programs in the works.
10:28:25 From Bill Coleman to Everyone: To clarify my comment above, I read that Starlink may be only able to serve a limited number of customers.
10:29:24 From Bill Coleman to Everyone: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20210510/08050146767/elon-musk-makes-it-clear-starlink-wont-have-capacity-to-disrupt-us-broadband.shtml
10:41:25 From Jim Yount to Everyone: Thanks Bill, that article is an excellent discussion of the capacity limits of Starlink. I entirely agree that the emergence of Starlink does not mean “problem solved”. I suspect you agree that it is nonetheless a game changer that merits further careful thought and analysis of its potential impacts on the broadband connectivity landscape. Important to consider for medium and long-term planning.
10:45:58 From Jim Yount to Everyone: If Starlink’s capacity is only 1% of the US population it’s impact on the underserved will nonetheless be dramatically larger for several reasons. Starlink is mainly relevant not to the entire US population but rather to those who are underserved or very dissatisfied but still able to pay Starlink’s rates. They can serve much more that 1% of that smaller group to whom they are relevant.
10:51:39 From Jim Yount to Everyone: It’s also important to recognize that their capacity is spread fairly even across the landscape because their constellation of satellites is necessarily/wisely widely spread out. If they are eventually able to serve 1 million households in the US, for example, those households must be fairly evenly spread out over the entire country. This means that while they could only serve a tiny fraction of the population of Los Angeles they can serve a relatively large fraction of sparsely populated regions, likely rising to 100% in the most remote areas.
10:52:18 From Mike Wimmer to Everyone: I’m a big believer in Starlink and believe that much like Fixed-Wireless it is a part of the solution. One concern I have about Starlink is that right now the process of setting up the service is not easy for many rural residents. If you are comfortable with technology it is relatively simple, but I could see older residents and those not comfortable with technology struggling to set it up. My hope is that once it exits beta testing, SpaceX allow for 3rd party installers similar to existing cable/internet to cover that gap.
10:56:10 From Yvonne Cariveau to Everyone: A key for best speed and service is for each household to have options. StarLink is one option, but landline availability and fixed wireless are other important ones needed not just for households but also for schools, businesses and farms in rural areas, so I don’t see StarLink as THE answer to availability, but certainly part of the puzzle.
10:57:00 From Lezlie Sauter to Everyone: I hopeful for Starlink and know a few families who it immensely helped during the pandemic. But I also know many families that hoped it would get them connected but have yet to receive their hardware (so they continue to use cellular hotspots or DSL).
10:57:11 From Mike Wimmer to Everyone: But I think the technology behind Starlink is legitimate and will help cover the broadband gap, especially in the areas of the state/country where FTTP is unlikely to ever happen short of 100% subsidy. I’ll be curious if Project Kuiper/Blue Origin is able to eventually offer some sort of service as well. They seem to be falling further behind SpaceX/Starlink everyday, but have a bottomless pit of cash to draw from (Bezos).
10:59:18 From Mike Wimmer to Everyone: I think Starlink is boosting production of the dishes to meet demand. I suspect they are impacted (like all tech) by the chip shortages. I saw yesterday that even Apple is dropping iPhone production because they cannot get some of the chips that they need. If even Apple is struggling, I can only imagine more “niche” uses of chips like Starlink are in an even more difficult spot.
10:59:35 From Jim Yount to Everyone: Actually, I am a 3rd party installer about to install my 3rd Starlink dish on Friday… All 3 of those are (no surprise) older folks not excited about climbing their roof or a tower even *if* they’re comfortable with the tech, per se. It’s allowed, but it’s entirely up to the end-user to find a contractor and it’s not cheap. I’m well aware that there are many folks in our county who have no fast options other than Starlink but can’t or would greatly struggle to pay the upfront cost and monthly cost, never mind professional installation. I’d rather they have excellent fiber to the home than pay me to put in Starlink.
11:00:40 From Marc Johnson to Everyone: In the discussion about options, including satellite and fixed wireless, remember the comment that “upload speed is productivity.”
11:03:49 From Ben Winchester to Everyone: Agree. Download=consumption. Upload=Production, I always hit on the economic side of upstream – we want to participate as producers in the knowledge economy not just consume it.
11:05:59 From Jim Yount to Everyone: I like how Yvonne expressed it: Starlink is not THE answer to availability but certainly is part of the puzzle. What I’m advocating is a thoughtful, detailed discussion to explore that that puzzle piece really looks like and the details of how it fits into the overall puzzle. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to expand my understanding of that bigger picture, with an eye on how to advise the stakeholders and decision makers in my community (and elsewhere). But we’re all smarter together. I very definitely don’t have all the answers! I’d love to see a mini-conference on “how Starlink changes broadband”, perhaps sponsored by the Blandin Foundation!
11:06:53 From Jay Trusty to Everyone: Honestly, I think the largest disadvantage of the Starlink discussion is that it gives legislators an out when we approach them about resources to bring broadband to unserved areas. They don’t actually have to spend time learning the issues, they can just say Starlink makes the effort moot.
11:08:11 From Bernadine Joselyn (she/her) to Everyone: Jay: I agree 100%
11:08:22 From Lezlie Sauter to Everyone: Jay, you’re absolutely correct. We’ve had people walk away from our community broadband work because they believe Starlink will fix it all.
11:09:39 From Jim Yount to Everyone: I very strongly agree, Jay. That’s one of the likely negative impacts of Starlink that I’m quite concerned. Lots of side effects that should be explored. And responses devised, such as getting the message out that we still very much need to expand our terrestrial infrastructure.
11:10:01 From Ben Winchester to Everyone: Yes Jay that is my primary concern.
11:11:33 From Jim Yount to Everyone: Deciders, funders, community advocates, voters, etc. need to understand both the potential and limitations of Starlink.
11:34:34 From Anne Brataas to Everyone: Just a note on Starlink science and tech: I’m a professional science writer and happen to be writing for NASA now, and what jumps out over and over to me is the lightly-regulated satellite scene and competition for slots by international players. This is immensely relevant to Starlink’s ability to deliver broadband sustainably. Needs to discussed.
11:54:29 From Scott Cole-Collectivity to Everyone: The projected Starlink latency will be down to 10ms in the full (post-beta) deployment