Is Starlink Internet the Answer for Rural New York?

While underserved communities will be happy to have access to faster Internet, satellite service can be expensive. Starlink’s “beta” service costs $99 a month — plus a $499 upfront cost to order the Starlink Kit.

Elon Musk
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(TNS) — Tesla CEO Elon Musk is aiming to bring high-speed Internet to largely rural areas in Upstate New York, but it won’t be cheap.

Business Insider reports the Federal Communications Commission has awarded Musk’s company SpaceX with more than $885 million in federal subsidies for its satellite Internet broadcast system known as Starlink. $20 million of it will be spent in New York state over the next 10 years, serving more than 13,000 potential customers.

Areas that will be served by Starlink include a tiny portion of the North Side of Syracuse; parts of the Onondaga Nation Reservation; Victory, just west of Cato; Apulia Station, near Tully; and half a dozen “locations” (homes or businesses) in Jamesville. Most of Starlink’s potential customers are in rural areas outside of places like Avon, Watkins Glen, Seneca Falls, Alder Creek, Lake Placid, Gouverneur, Stratford, and Lake George.

The FCC said 99.7% of the winning locations will have a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mb/s) download speeds, good for streaming high-quality movies online and using video conferencing platforms like Zoom. 85% of those locations may get service even faster — 10 times more.

Funding for the project comes from the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, paid for by small fees on cell phone bills as part of an effort to get Internet service providers to bring broadband to parts of the U.S. with slow or non-existent Internet service. SpaceX was one of 180 companies receiving access to Phase 1 funds aiming to support 5.2 million homes and businesses across America.

Frontier Communications also received funding to improve service in Upstate New York, largely in the “Gigabit” tier of funding that serves low latency areas. SpaceX bids are for the “Above baseline” tier with slower speeds.

While underserved communities will be happy to have access to faster Internet, it can be expensive.

CNBC reported in October that Starlink’s “beta” service costs $99 a month — plus a $499 upfront cost to order the Starlink Kit. The kit includes a user terminal to connect with SpaceX satellites and a Wi-Fi router that can be controlled by a Starlink app on Google and Apple devices.

SpaceX also warns that data speeds will vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms “over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system.” There may also be brief periods of no connectivity at all.

The company hasn’t said how much it would charge for services to locations awarded under the FCC program, but U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY 20) told the Times Union that his office will make sure Starlink’s service will be reliable with consumer-friendly prices.

“We’re going to stay on top of it,” Tonko said.

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