Starlink begins providing high-speed satellite internet in Alaska

SpaceX on Monday announce The launch of Starlink in Alaska, the high-speed satellite Internet service that advocates say will send broadband to every corner of the state.

Alaskans who signed up for the service said they were eager to try it out. They expect it to offer faster and cheaper service than GCI, the largest telecom company in the state.

But Starlink is just one of several ongoing efforts that could transform communications in the state, where more than 200 villages lack city-quality internet service.

SpaceX, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, builds and launches rockets that carry equipment into space, including Internet satellites. SpaceX’s Starlink uses a series of satellites in low Earth orbit to quickly send signals back to Earth. recently received Glowing reviews from the Pentagon after the US military discovered it was providing high data and communication rates at remote Arctic bases.

Arctic resident Bert Sommers said Monday he would give the service a B for now. In an interview, he said he was too far out of town to get wire internet from GCI.

On Monday, Somers installed his newly arrived Starlink dish on his roof. He tested it first on the snowy ground outside his home, and dated it at his family home YouTube vlogger“Sommers in Alaska.”

The Starlink internet is fast, Somers said, but the signal drops every few minutes, usually for several seconds. Starlink is expected to improve as more satellites are deployed.

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“I think it shows promise,” he said, “but I don’t know if we’re firing on all cylinders at this point.”

Another concern, Somers said, is the operational limits of minus 22, as instructed by Starlink. He said Alaskan winter temperatures could drop below that, but he might use a small heater in the future to warm the dish if needed.

Standard costs are $600 for the equipment. It’s $110 a month, Somers said, which is cheaper than broadband in the city. Once the signal is good enough, he said, he can save money by forgoing one of the cellphone service providers he and his wife, Jessica, use for their slow home internet.

“We don’t have a lot of other options here,” he said, “so I’m really excited about that.” “I think this will be the future, and this will make other Internet companies consider lowering their prices if this is going to be their competition.”

A level playing field for rural Alaska

Heather Handyside, a spokeswoman for GCI, said the company believes fiber-based internet is the best way to offer customers the fastest speeds and nearly unlimited data. She said the company is actively working to expand fiber to additional rural communities.

The company has also built a microwave network that provides internet across most of rural Alaska.

Handyside said GCI also recognizes that fiber-based internet is not possible for many remote communities in Alaska. She said GCI is meeting with satellite service providers to help it provide better service in those remote locations.

“We are excited about the potential of LEO satellites to help connect remote parts of Alaska, and we are tracking closely as Starlink and other LEO providers deploy this new technology,” she said in a prepared statement.

Handyside said the cost and speed of GCI internet plans vary, depending on how the internet is delivered in a place, such as by fiber or microwave. Rural plans range from $60 to $300.

Rural people often complain about costs being too high because they say data limits can often be exceeded quickly.

John Wallace, a technology contractor in Bethel, the largest community in western Alaska, said he recently received a notification from Starlink that his equipment was on its way.

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When it arrives, its internet service will be several times faster than what GCI currently provides in Bethel, for a third of the price and more data, he said.

Wallace and others say Starlink will greatly expand opportunities in rural Alaska, where many communities still struggle with sometimes slow dial-up speeds. They say the affordability and capacity of the Internet will improve dramatically, sharply cutting costs for businesses, families and local governments.

Wallace said Starlink will bring home capacity that only the school and clinic previously had. More people will be able to engage in e-commerce, telecommuting, online learning, and many other areas.

“There are very few things we get in rural Alaska that allow us to get on the same plane as everyone else, and this is one of those things,” Wallace said.

Starlink isn’t the first in Alaska

Sean Williams, with Pacific Dataport in Anchorage, said another satellite Internet service has been circulating low-Earth in Alaska for more than a year, with London-based OneWeb satellites.

Williams said Pacific Dataport provides broadband internet service to some villages.

This includes Akyak, 500 inhabitants, in the Bethel area.

The Internet has given families in Akyak a quick and cheaper option for village broadband, said Mike Williams, chief of the Akyak tribe, who is not related to Sean Williams, allowing many to get broadband at home. He also heads the Yukon-Koskokwim Delta Tribal Broadband Consortium, which sells OneWeb’s signal to many village households for $75 a month, he said.

Mike Williams said there are still some glitches in the signal, but he said they are rare and are being addressed quickly. He said the service has improved over time.

“We’re seeing more people fixing home appliances via YouTube,” said Mike Williams. “We’re seeing opportunities for economic development, like people selling furs and artwork. Kids are using it for education, and we have Zoom capabilities. And hopefully when we have some health issues, we can get this information online about what’s happening to our health.”

Sean Williams said Pacific Dataport also plans early next year to launch its own high-tech satellite, Aurora 4A, to provide satellite service across Alaska.

Fiber comes to many villages

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 state’s fiber optic backbone, according to officials with the Alaska Bureau of Broadband.

This will expand broadband to about 80 more Alaskan communities in the coming years. Communities are now considered underserved or underserved because they lack high speed internet.

Much of the federal money comes from a gigantic, bipartisan infrastructure bill Passed successfully last year by Congress.

The state’s office of broadband, newly created this year, also plans to secure more federal funding to bring high-speed broadband to more villages, said Thomas Lochner, director of the office.

“We have a very strong opportunity within the country to bridge the digital divide,” said Lochner. “With transformative amounts of funding provided by the federal government to the state to connect all of these communities, within the next 10 years, I predict that 100% of Alaskan communities will be connected to a robust broadband system.”

GCI is part of a $73 million partnership awarded to bring fiber cable to Bethel and several other villages, reaching more than 10,000 people in southwest Alaska. It’s just one of the projects receiving federal funding.

Handyside said it should be in service in Bethel in 2024, followed by other communities.

Sean Williams said fiber in Alaska is too expensive to connect on a household basis, especially compared to the new satellite internet.

“When we operate fiber, it’s not cheap, and when we use satellite broadband, it’s much more cost effective and deployment is much faster too, without environmental impact studies,” he said.

Akyak’s Mike Williams said the fiber-based service won’t reach new villages for another few years or more. That means satellite-based broadband is the better option for many villages right now, whether it’s OneWeb or SpaceX satellites, he said.

“It’s been great to have broadband internet over the past year,” he said.

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