A Duluth stargazer view of Satellites: will too many spoil the view?

I loved astronomy as a kid. One of my favorite things about heading outside of the Cities is the clear, starry sky at night. So I have to admit, I do wonder what will happen to the night sky as humans keep launching satellites. So I was fascinated to read about what Bob King, a photographer from Duluth, was noticing.

The Duluth News Tribune reports

Back in September I described a new 4G broadband satellite cellular service planned by AST SpaceMobile. At the time, their prototype unit, BlueWalker3 , orbited the Earth but had yet to unfold, the reason it was too faint for most casual skywatchers to track. That’s changed. On November 10, the company “unboxed” the satellite — basically a squash-court-sized antenna array — which greatly increased its surface area and therefore its capacity to reflect sunlight.

The very next night, the first reports trickled in, describing BlueWalker 3 as brighter than most stars. I’ve spent the past few evenings observing passes of the satellite from my driveway here in Duluth, Minnesota, and can confirm those observations. I’ve seen it now on three occasions. During each appearance it showed up on time and grew as bright as magnitude 1.3, equal to Deneb in the Northern Cross and very easy to see with the naked eye even through light cloud and moderate light pollution.

The satellite circles the planet in low-Earth orbit between 312 and 327 miles (508-527km) altitude or about 60-75 miles higher than the International Space Station. Why should you care? BlueWalker 3 is the predecessor of a new “constellation” of some 110 larger satellites (called BlueBirds) that will launch aboard SpaceX rockets in the next few years. The first five are slated for liftoff in late 2023 .

Being larger they’ll likely also be brighter. As skywatchers I think it’s important to know about any new project that adds more machines to the night sky so we can see what’s happening with informed eyes. Like most people I enjoy satellite-watching but fear we’ve reached a saturation point. There are now so many “moving lights” up there they distract from our appreciation of the wild essence of the night.

The author admits that we all want better broadband or a cellphone with coverage everywhere but he recommends contacting the FCC and requiring companies to find ways to lessen the impact of their bright and growing satellites.

Starlink is worried that potential use of 12 Ghz spectrum will interrupt service

Ars Technica reports

SpaceX is asking Starlink customers to help the company win a regulatory battle against Dish Network. In an email urging users to contact the Federal Communications Commission and members of Congress, SpaceX yesterday said a Dish plan to use the 12 GHz spectrum band for mobile service will cause “harmful interference [to Starlink users] more than 77 percent of the time and total outage of service 74 percent of the time, rendering Starlink unusable for most Americans.”

Those percentages come from a study SpaceX submitted to the FCC last week, which claims mobile service in the 12 GHz band would interfere with Starlink user terminals that use the same spectrum for downloads. Tuesday’s email from SpaceX was posted on the Starlink subreddit and covered by The Verge.

The US is quietly paying millions to send Starlink terminals to Ukraine, contrary to SpaceX claims

This is a double share of Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s recap of a Washington Post article…

After Russia launched its invasion, Ukrainian officials pleaded for Elon Musk’s SpaceX to dispatch their Starlink terminals to the region to boost Internet access. “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route,” Musk replied to broad online fanfare. Since then, the company has cast the actions in part as a charitable gesture. “I’m proud that we were able to provide the terminals to folks in Ukraine,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said, later adding, “I don’t think the US has given us any money to give terminals to Ukraine.” But according to documents obtained by The Washington Post, the US federal government is in fact paying millions of dollars for a significant portion of the equipment and for the transportation costs to get it to Ukraine. On April 5, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it has purchased more than 1,330 terminals from SpaceX to send to Ukraine, while the company donated nearly 3,670 terminals and the Internet service itself. While the agency initially called it a “private sector donation valued at roughly $10 million,” it did not specify how much it is contributing for the equipment or for the cost of transportation. Sometime after the announcement, the agency removed key details from its release. It now states that USAID “has delivered 5,000 Starlink Terminals” to Ukraine “through a public-private partnership” with SpaceX but does not specify the quantity nor value of the donations.

Amazon launching satellites for “fast, affordable” broadband

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

Amazon has deals with three rocket companies to help launch communications satellites that the online retail giant says will help provide fast, affordable broadband to millions of underserved people around the world.

Seattle-based Amazon said Tuesday that Arianespace, United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin will combine for up to 83 launches during the next five years, deploying the majority of Amazon’s 3,236 low-earth satellites to be used for what Amazon is calling “Project Kuiper.”

Not a lot of specifics offered but they do note…

Amazon has 1,000 employees working on Project Kuiper, which it says, once deployed, will be able to serve tens of millions of residential, business, and government customers in places without dependable broadband.

NASA concerned about SpaceX’s plan to launch thousands more satellites

The Wall Street Journal reports

Elon Musk’s satellite internet venture is fueling concerns from one of SpaceX’s most important customers—the National Aeronautics and Space Administration—about traffic congestion and potential collisions hundreds of miles above Earth.

SpaceX has been ramping up satellite deployments to power Starlink, the high-speed internet service the company has been rolling out in markets around the world. In January, SpaceX asked the Federal Communications Commission to authorize the company to use a particular setup for 30,000 additional satellites it would send up over time. Those satellites represent the bulk of the 42,000-satellite fleet that SpaceX hopes to ultimately deploy for Starlink.

NASA said in an early February letter to the FCC that the 30,000 devices, if deployed, would significantly boost the number of tracked objects in space—by a factor of more than five in certain lower orbits.

“An increase of this magnitude into these confined altitude bands inherently brings additional risk of debris generating collision events,” the space agency said in the letter. NASA also raised concerns about how the automated-maneuvering systems that Starlink satellites use may interact with other networks of satellites with similar capabilities, given the dearth of rules to govern such interactions.

The sky is falling! Or maybe it’s just SpaceX satellites

The headline is hyperbole, but I couldn’t resist. The satellites aren’t falling onto the streets but they aren’t keeping in orbit either. AP News reports

SpaceX’s newest fleet of satellites is tumbling out of orbit after being struck by a solar storm.

Up to 40 of the 49 small satellites launched last week have either reentered the atmosphere and burned up, or are on the verge of doing so, the company said in an online update Tuesday night.

SpaceX said a geomagnetic storm last Friday made the atmosphere denser, which increased the drag on the Starlink satellites, effectively dooming them.

Ground controllers tried to save the compact, flat-panel satellites by putting them into a type of hibernation and flying them in a way to minimize drag. But the atmospheric pull was too great, and the satellites failed to awaken and climb to a higher, more stable orbit, according to the company.

SpaceX still has close to 2,000 Starlink satellites orbiting Earth and providing internet service to remote corners of the world. They circle the globe more than 340 miles up (550 kilometers).

Premium SpaceX gets 150-500 Mbps download for $500 per month

Business Insider reports…

Elon Musk’s SpaceX released a faster version of its Starlink satellite internet service. It comes with a $2,500 kit and costs 5 times the standard service.

Some details…

The website said users of the premium version could expect download speeds of 150 to 500 Megabits per second, compared with maximum speeds of 150 Mbps available to standard-service customers.

A standard subscription to the network is $99 a month, but Starlink Premium will cost $500 a month, the order page said.

The deposit for the premium service is $500, compared with $100 for the standard Starlink service.

It’s an interesting proposition. After reading hundreds of comments from rural broadband users, I learned that people are very frustrated with their options (in some areas). They are very hopeful for Starlink to be the answer but at the time of the surveys, Starlink was still in beta most people who mentioned it were on a waiting list.

The costs will likely be a barrier for most people but that perhaps this is an opportunity for SpaceX to field test (and presumably prove) the speeds they have been reporting. But at this cost at least in many rural areas, the customer base will likely not interfere with speeds – so it feels like a padded test.

Le Sueur talks to State Reps and Senator about frustration with RDOF and State grants creating blockage for better broadband

Le Sueur County News reports…

According to a report by the Blandin Foundation, nearly one in four Le Sueur County households are under-served or unserved. But despite the record $70 million in Border to Border grants, Le Sueur County is at risk of not seeing a single cent in state grants.

Many under-served and unserved areas of Le Sueur County are now ineligible for Border to Border grant dollars since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned over $408 million in grants to internet service providers to construct fiber optic networks across northeastern and southern Minnesota.

Of all the companies competing for grants, the largest sum is expected to go to a little-known ISP: LTD Broadband. The telecom provider bid for over $311,000 in 102,000 locations across the state. LTD’s planned fiber optic network encompasses approximately two thirds of unserved and under-served areas in the county.

I’ve written before about the situation in Le Sueur, they have been ineligible for state funding because of the LTD proposed opportunity with RDOF. So far nothing has changed as we wait to hear with LTD gets the funding but Le Sueur has been working to tell the story and on new plans…

Le Sueur County officials and the Board of Commissioners aired these frustrations to state legislators in a meeting on Tuesday. County officials pushed Sen. Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake), Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield) and Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) to bring the eligibility issue to the DEED Office, which distributes Border-to-Border grants, and the governor’s office.

“It seems that the state is going to receive a significant amount of money from the federal government for broadband investments, and if this policy issue isn’t addressed, we’re not going to be eligible for these investments,” said County Administrator Joe Martin.

Draheim responded that the state was tied by conditions attached to federal dollars and believe the county’s concerns are primarily tied to the federal government’s actions.

“I think it stems more from the federal government than the state government,” said Draheim. “I definitely will be in contact with the broadband department and others at the state level to see if there’s anything we could work around, but I think we need to be talking to Washington and not St. Paul.”

Draheim offered to have a non-partisan staff member answer clarifying questions on whether it was a state decision or federal conditions that led to the county’s grant request being denied.

In the future, Draheim advocated for the state to shift its focus away from fiber networks and toward subsidizing rural high speed internet through satellite dishes.

”It’s very disappointing for Le Sueur County that we’re in this position. Moving forward, I think the state legislators are going to have to look at what’s the next step,” said Draheim. “We have literally pumped billions of dollars into internet across Minnesota. Unfortunately, most of those federal dollars go to ‘rural internet,’ but it just connects large cities through rural Minnesota and doesn’t help the people of rural Minnesota.”

I think it’s worth noting Draheim’s focus on satellite. I’m afraid we may see a resurgence of interest in satellite in the legislature because it has gotten better but it still does not compete with the fiber, which is built for today’s need and future needs. People and businesses will move to an area with fiber to build a future; they won’t move to areas with satellite-only.

Starlink speeds flattening as new customers are added

Tom’s Guide reports

Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite internet company, seems to be hitting a speed plateau, according to data collected by one of the biggest speed test websites on the internet.

Ookla, known for running SpeedTest.net, says that Starlink speeds didn’t increase during the third quarter of this year. In some areas, speeds began to wane.

According to Ookla, median speeds between Q2 to Q3 2021 saw a decrease from 97.23 to 87.25 Mbps. Ookla speculates that this could be a symptom of Starlink adding new customers to its satellite network, which may eat away at available bandwidth.

Starlink out of beta but not shipping soon due to chip shortages

Ars Technica reports

If you ordered Starlink broadband service and don’t receive your “Dishy McFlatface” satellite dish any time soon, the global chip shortage may be one reason why.

“Silicon shortages have delayed production which has impacted our ability to fulfill orders. Please visit your Account page for the most recent estimate on when you can expect your order to be fulfilled,” SpaceX said in an FAQ on the Starlink support website. The language was added to the Starlink website on Thursday night, according to a PCMag article.

Starlink has apparently just exited its beta status. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in September that it would emerge from beta in October, and the word “beta” was deleted from descriptions on the Starlink homepage late last week. The website was also updated to advertise “download speeds between 100Mbps and 200Mbps and latency as low as 20ms in most locations,” an improvement over the previously stated “50Mbps to 150Mbps and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations.”

But the move from beta to general availability doesn’t necessarily coincide with widespread availability. PCMag also pointed out that expected shipment times for Starlink have been pushed to late 2022 or early 2023 in additional parts of the US. The Starlink website reports expected service times of “early to mid 2022” in other areas.

The scoop on Starlink? Depends who you ask!

It was fun to see MinnPost pick up an impromptu conversation on StarLink that happened during the Broadband conference earlier this month. Starlink is the low orbit satellite service that is in beta testing now. I’ve written about it before the MinnPost article does a nice job outlining it.


  • State Rep Garofalo
    “This is just another example of technology solving our problems for us,” Garofalo said. “When they’re talking about making sure that communities have access, well everyone already does have access. The infrastructure is already in place, it’s just the monthly fees.
    “Rather than subsidizing a fiber connection to a wealthy suburbanite who has a cabin in northern Minnesota, put some means testing onto some Starlink annual plans,” Garofalo said. “That way you’re going to get more people more access to broadband at a lower price.”


  • Economic Developer Lezlie Sauter
    One person who chimed in was Lezlie Sauter, the economic development coordinator at Pine County in east-central Minnesota. While the Legislature and some local governments have consistently funded broadband grants used on fiber in recent years, Sauter said in a later interview that some people are dismissive of her efforts to expand fiber broadband in the area with public money “because they’re like ‘Starlink will fix it all, I don’t know why we’re even talking about putting fiber in the ground.’ ”
    Starlink could be the only option for some people, but she said it’s not affordable for many while and fiber internet is reliable, fast and “almost fail proof” since it’s in the ground. Pine County residents have among the worst access to quality broadband in the state.
  • Economic Developer Michelle Marotzke
    Marotzke, from the Willmar-based Mid-Minnesota Development Commission, said Starlink poses other concerns. Problems may not be able to be fixed as easily as traditional infrastructure, where someone can call a provider like an electric cooperative and have a technician show up at their house.
    Starlink’s internet can still be slowed by inclement weather and obstacles like trees, and Marotzke said ongoing costs associated with thousands of satellites could prove to be expensive compared to fiber that requires little maintenance once it’s buried. “We have technology that is proven, that is solid,” Marotzke said. “We can literally put the shovel in the ground and get it done.”
  • Computer Science Professor Peter Peterson
    Peterson, the UMD professor, also expressed doubts about Starlink being a broad solution to internet problems long term. SpaceX has to keep launching satellites as it gains customers, raising environmental “space junk” concerns and affecting astronomy. (Starlink has previously said it hopes to launch 42,000 satellites.) Rural America also shouldn’t be forced to rely on one company, Peterson said, because if there are issues or outages that could affect a massive number of people. But if another competitor comes along, he said that would only grow the huge constellation of satellites.
  • Chair of MN Broadband Coalition Jay Trusty
    One common argument among fiber proponents is also that it can be done now, while Starlink isn’t widely available yet. “We’re already behind,” said Jay Trusty, who chairs the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, which includes telecom companies, counties, economic development officials and even the Mayo Clinic.
    During the pandemic, Trusty said, “we had all these kids that couldn’t access their schools, people stayed at home trying to work from home.”
    “We’ve got broadband issues that aren’t going to wait five, 10, 15 years.”

Professor Peterson concern for competition is compelling; lack of competition leaves rural residents stuck. I think that is what had folks most concerned because even those concerned about Starlink, aren’t opposed to it – in fact many have tried to sign up for it…

Despite their concerns, public officials skeptical of Starlink said it could still be a good option for many Minnesotans. Sauter, from Pine County, signed up for the service roughly eight months ago, though she said she has yet to receive equipment.

Peterson, the UMD professor, said his only option in Lakewood Township north of Duluth is brutally slow DSL. And while he hopes his area can get grant money to start a fiber cooperative as a long-term solution, for now he also applied for Starlink and is on a waiting list. “I’m signed up for it because we don’t have fiber in our neighborhood,” Peterson said.

Initiative Foundation funds Mille Lacs Tribal Economy Satellite Broadband Study

St Cloud Times reports

The Initiative Foundation and its partner funds provided grants worth more than $314,000 during the second quarter of 2021, with a focus on childhood education.

One grant went for a broadband study…

Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures – Mille Lacs Tribal Economy Satellite Broadband Study: $6,670 goes toward a 12-month case study on broadband services and experiences among the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe districts.

I am looking forward to the results.

People are ready for Starlink to be great but they don’t really know

PCMag interviewed 1,041 adults about Starlink and found that people liked more than they knew…

Regardless, among the survey respondents who said they were familiar with Starlink, the obsession remains. When we asked that group whether they’d switch to the satellite ISP if or when it was available in their area, 76% said they were likely to; 40% said very likely.

That sentiment is probably informed not so much by the quality of Starlink’s service but more by how deeply people hate their current fixed-wired ISPs. Our follow-up questions showed that the majority of people agree with statements that Starlink is faster and more reliable (meaning fewer interruptions) than nationwide ISPs such as Comcast Xfinity, Verizon Fios, and Charter’s Spectrum. Sure, Starlink is faster than any satellite competitor, but it’s nowhere near faster than a cable or fiber connection today. Starlink does have the lofty goal of 10-gigabits-per-second downloads. Along with the service’s reliability, that remain to be seen.

For remote locations that are essentially disenfranchised by the major ISPs, though, any decent speed is transformative. One thing at least some of the survey respondents got right is agreeing with the statement that Starlink internet is more for rural users than city users. In fact, Starlink’s getting millions from the FCC to improve broadband in rural areas. We researched which US counties need it the most.

I’ve seen this in other places too. Especially for a report I’m hoping to share at the Blandin Broadband Conference. Rural residents are very frustrated with their existing options and they are primed to love something new. We just need to keep a balance on whether the shiny new solution meets the needs of today and tomorrow before we invest too much hope in it.

Can broadband help with these wild fires? Turns out yes!

I am in St Paul and I can tell you the air is thick and air quality seems poor. My colleagues up North say it’s worse there (between storms!). So this story from Urgent Communications seems particularly apt today…

Members of the Verizon Response Team (VRT) are using a variety of solutions to deliver broadband communications to public-safety agencies battling wildfires throughout the U.S.—at no additional cost—as part of the carrier’s Verizon Frontline offering, according to a Verizon official.

Cory Davis, director of Verizon Response and public-safety operations, said the VRT has been “super busy,” responding to a total of 74 named wildfires already in what is proving to be a very active wildfire season.

“We’ve had 88 deployments across the United States, from California, Oregon, Arizona, Montana, all the way to Minnesota,” Davis said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “There’s a huge fire—the Delta Lake fire—that’s burning right now along the Canadian border. We sent a team up there to help support the operations center, working really closely with the COMLs up there.”

Apparently some states are used to this, Minnesota is listed as a newer or less frequent fire place…

“This is the first time my East team went to a large forest fire in that part of the country,” Davis said. “Places like Canada and Minnesota just generally don’t have large forest fires that often like the West does. But as things are getting warmer and the climate is changing, we’re seeing that fires are popping up everywhere—I had my team out in North Carolina at a fire about a month ago.

The goal is bringing the network closer to the emergency workers…

Firefighters often work to control and extinguish wildfires in locations where terrestrial wireless coverage is not available, so many of the VRT solutions utilize geosynchronous (GEO) satellite communications with “public-safety-grade priority” to provide backhaul, according to Davis.

“We can get an average of 30 mbps downlink and 10 mbps uplink,” he said. “Obviously, there will be bursts with more [data throughput] being available.

“The biggest thing is dealing with latency when you use satellite backhaul—anywhere between 600 and 800 milliseconds—but first responders can do a lot with 30 mbps.”

Davis said that Verizon is closely monitoring developments in the low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite arena and will consider leveraging that technology in the future. This assessment process include testing of LEO-based offerings from companies like Lynk and AST SpaceMobile, which have announced satellite LTE services that will connect directly to a smartphone, as opposed to requiring the user to deploy a satellite dish or a specialized device, he said.

In addition to traditional deployable communications solutions—from those on vehicles to offerings housed in Pelican cases that can be carried by hand to a location—VRTs are using satellite pico cells on trailers (SPOTs) to deliver broadband in a focused area to help support first-responder communications.

“Essentially, we can provide not only a 4G LTE bubble but also a Wi-Fi bubble for—and it depends on the environment—about 6,000 to 7,000 square feet. So, it’s really good for base camps,” Davis said.

“Since it is enclosed, we also have the capability to have it be like a mini operational command-center—you can fit two or three good-sized adults in there. So, you can turn it into not only an asset that deploys coverage and capacity, but it can also work as kind of a makeshift operations center for a very, very small group.”

Verizon cannot use the high-power user equipment (HPUE) that is only permitted on the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed for FirstNet, but VRTs do have some solutions that can be deployed when extra range is needed, Davis said.

So what’s Starlink satellite really like? One user reports in

The Verge takes a look at Starlink’s beta from a user’s perspective. The original article includes a lot more but I wanted to pare it down. The quick take is that he did see speeds that were faster than advertised, but he also was not able to do a lot of things (like Zoom) consistently because of reliability issues…

The idea of ordering a $499 dish with a $99 monthly fee that can deliver Starlink’s current goal of 100Mbps down and 20Mbps up would indeed be a dream come true — especially since Starlink has set a long-term goal of 1Gbps down. It represents competition, something the American broadband market sorely lacks.

Author gives Starlink a try…

Starlink is a lot of very bold engineering advancements packaged up in a $499 consumer product; the whole thing is far more advanced than previous satellite internet systems, which are slow, heavily data-capped, and very expensive.

The Starlink coverage map divides the globe into a honeycomb-like hexagonal grid; the satellites launched so far mostly provide service in the northern part of North America. The whole thing is still in beta, so access is limited — even if you’re in a coverage area, there are only so many available slots in each part of the grid, so as not to stress the system.

Luckily, my area has not yet filled its allotment yet, so I was able to simply sign up on the website, and my kit arrived about a week later. Let’s smash the system, I thought.

Then I learned about trees.

Inside the large gray Starlink box, you’ll find four items: the dish itself, which is connected to a 100-foot power-over-Ethernet (PoE) cable; a short black metal tripod stand for the dish; the main black Starlink power adapter; and a small silver Wi-Fi router with its own white PoE cable. The fundamental setup is incredibly simple: you plug both Ethernet cables into the power adapter, plug that into the wall, and you’re done. The printed instructions in the box are just pictograms, like Ikea for space internet.

All of the hardware is nicely designed — even though it’s in beta, it feels close to a consumer product already, with a sense of style that goes well beyond the hospital equipment vibes of most satellite gear. The dish itself (officially named “Dishy McFlatface”) is made of white plastic, with a matte white texture on its face. Two buttons on the mounting pole click into the included tripod mount, and that’s that. There are motors that rotate and tilt the dish to align it automatically; no fiddling required.

(One design oversight: the cable is permanently attached to the dish, so if it gets damaged — it’s outside, after all — you’re likely looking at replacing the entire dish, not just the cable.)

Although the Starlink kit ships with a short tripod and the sparse online instructions refer to it being “knee-high,” the dish really needs to be mounted as high up as you can get it. Starlink requires near-perfect line of sight to its satellites, which are often fairly low in the sky. Trees, buildings, and even poles will easily obstruct the signal, so if you’ve got tall trees blocking the horizon there’s really no choice but to get up and over them. Starlink beta testers have gone to hilarious and wonderful DIY lengths to solve this problem. (If there is one unreservedly excellent thing about Starlink, it is the community of beta testers, who are all the sort of clear-eyed we’ll-figure-it-out nerds that lend early tech products an air of infectious discovery and enthusiasm. I love you, Starlink people.)

I am going to emphasize the line-of-sight requirement, since it is crucial to understanding what Starlink can and cannot do right now, and it’s an important reality check on what it might be able to do in the future. Like the similarly over-hyped mmWave 5G, Starlink is remarkably delicate. Even a single tree blocking the dish’s line of sight to the horizon will degrade and interrupt your Starlink signal. Whatever satellite internet dreams you may have will run crashing into this reality until you can literally rise above.

Starlink’s website makes all of this crystal clear. “If any object such as a tree, chimney, pole, etc. interrupts the path of the beam, even briefly, your internet service will be interrupted,” says Starlink. “The best guidance we can give is to install your Starlink at the highest elevation possible where it is safe to do so, with a clear view of the sky. Users who live in areas with lots of tall trees, buildings, etc. may not be good candidates for early use of Starlink.” (I encourage you to square the advice to mount the dish as high as possible with the Starlink team’s further recommendation to bring ol’ Dishy inside in high wind conditions. Keep that ladder handy.)

Why am I hammering this point home? Because Starlink’s solution to the line-of-sight issue is to put more satellites into space, and, well, that’s not necessarily great. While Starlink has an army of devoted heart-eyed fans, it has an equal number of critics in the scientific community who note that blanketing the sky with tiny satellites will interfere with astronomers the world over. Starlink satellites are already bright enough to confuse people, and their potential to interfere with telescopes is well-documented. (No, you cannot just paint them black because the idea is to look at space, not thousands of little black satellites.) …

Once you’re all set up and plugged in, there’s not much to say. Starlink offers a moderately fast, very inconsistent broadband connection. I definitely saw speeds that exceeded the promised 100Mbps down, topping out at 222Mbps down and 24Mbps up. But my usual speeds hovered between 30 and 90 down, matching what others have reported, and the connection slowed down and dropped out with surprising frequency.

If Starlink could offer consistently fast speeds, it would be competitive with the fastest package I can get from my rural cable provider, which tops out at $200 / mo for 325 / 25 but is still not attractively priced compared to the services available in more populated areas.

In my week of testing, Starlink was perfectly fine for anything that buffers — I was able to stream Netflix and Disney Plus in 4K and jump around YouTube videos without significant issues — but doing something faster-paced, like quickly scrolling through TikTok videos, would run into delays.

Services that require a sustained, real-time connection, like Slack, Zoom, or gaming, simply weren’t usable for me, even when I was seeing the fastest speeds. I had high hopes that I could spend several days working over Starlink, and after just a few lost Slack messages and Zoom calls where my video dropped to low resolution and then froze entirely, I gave up. Many Starlink beta testers similar report experiences — consistent dropouts of a few seconds, every few minutes.

Starlink’s latency also swings from fine — Zoom did not exhibit any delay when it worked — to pretty bad. My feeling is that the connection dropouts are going to be worse for gaming than latency, so I didn’t spend any time testing gaming latency, but Starlink itself measures ping times for Counter-Strike: Go and Fortnite in its app, and I rarely saw those numbers dip below 50ms, mostly hovering around 85-115ms. Those aren’t numbers you’d want to game with, unless you like losing. (Some Starlink testers have been able to play games and even use Stadia, but that seems both inconsistent and heavily dependent on satellite coverage in your area.)

There are no data caps right now, but Starlink is clearly thinking about it, using the same “preventing abuse” language as any other broadband provider. If you are dreaming of signing up for Starlink as a way to tell your local cable monopoly to kick rocks, well, consider what might happen when Starlink is your space-based internet access monopoly.