The Hoh tribe consists of 28 houses on a road on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula. Just like in many rural areas in the United States, surfing the Internet here has always been a daunting task. Some homes have a wired Internet connection, but the download speed is very slow-almost not enough to watch YouTube videos. Others rely on incomplete cellular services.
Over the years, community members have been begging telecommunications companies to provide better Internet services to their tribes. However, it does not make economic sense for these companies to invest in the wires and towers needed to serve the approximately one hundred people living on the reservation, which is about 30 minutes away from the next nearest town.
Then the pandemic broke out in early 2020. The meetings, courses, and government services of the Hoh tribe have moved online, just like most other people in the United States do. But most tribal members cannot force the switch to digitalization-and they risk falling further behind. “Our young people can’t download courses, or even homework, so this is one of the main driving forces we need to get online as soon as possible,” said Melvinjohn Ashue, a former Hoh Tribe committee member.
So, they decided to try something new. They turned to outer space.
The Hoh tribe is participating in a beta test called Internet Service Provider Starlink. This is a project Space Exploration Technology Corporation, Elon Musk’s company aims to eventually send people to Mars. According to Musk, Starlink’s goal is to transmit high-speed Internet from space to the most remote areas in the world.
Although this project is still being tested-Mixed with Comment-When the government was willing to spend taxpayer money on infrastructure and risk new broadband deployment methods, Starlink attracted a lot of attention in Washington.
In 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved Starlink’s planned delivery 12,000 Starlink satellites Get into orbit.And in 2020, the company won Nearly one billion U.S. dollars The taxpayer’s money goes through something called Rural Digital Opportunity Fund-A federal program deployed during the pandemic to help connect rural areas in the country.
But one Recent survey It was discovered that the FCC had mismanaged the fund. At least 10% of its $9 billion (including Starlink’s winning bid) is not used to serve rural Americans, but to densely populated urban areas—even for projects including airport parking lots and highway centerlines. In July, the FCC admitted that it had Poor fund management And, now under the new leadership, the FCC Inquiring about the company Money back to those who don’t use it to connect to those who need it.
Determining the mistakes made by the rural fund would ideally ensure that taxpayers’ money is better spent in the future. In the next few years, we are likely to see unprecedented funding used to connect Americans.Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate voted Pass a landmark infrastructure bill Which includes $65 billion Provide funding for broadband expansion.
This money alone will not solve the problem. It needs to reach the right people and invest in technology that can reliably provide fast internet in the coming years. Although the space Internet has now received a lot of attention, it is still unclear what role it will play in solving the US broadband problem. But it is clear that Starlink has a place at the negotiating table.
Jessica RosenworthelThe acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said that when connecting to Americans, all options—including Starlink’s alien options—should be on the table. She said: “We should be open to all technologies that can help provide broadband quickly, and this is definitely one of them.”