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Texas Schools Partner With SpaceX on High-Speed Internet

The school district in Ector County, Texas, recently became the first school district in the nation to partner with SpaceX to provide broadband service to families with poor or no Internet access.

Satellite in space
(TNS) — Ector County ISD on Tuesday became the first school district in the nation to partner with SpaceX to provide broadband service to families with poor or no internet access.

Superintendent Scott Muri made the announcement a concrete slab diagonally across from Wilson's Corner near Pleasant Farms. He was joined by ECISD Board of Trustees President Delma Abalos, Permian Strategic Partnership President and CEO Tracee Bentley and state Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R- Odessa.

Starting in January 2021, 45 families will be served by Starlink. Assuming that goes well, another 90 families will be added, Muri said. The service won't cost the families anything for a year.

The venture is the result of a partnership of ECISD, Chiefs for Change, a national philanthropic organization, PSP and SpaceX. The cost is $300,000 and Chiefs for Change provided $150,000.

The partnership will bring SpaceX's Starlink satellite technology to families in the community.

After schools shut down in March due to COVID-19, a survey of families in ECISD found that 39 percent did not have internet access in their homes, or had limited internet access.

"Right behind me, you are looking at the community of Pleasant Farms that has very limited broadband service. We have children; we have families; we have educators living in this community and having the internet in their home is extremely difficult, if not impossible. But because of Space X and their Starlink technology, they are right now circling a series of satellites above this area and they will beam a high-quality broadband signal to our families, providing high-quality, high speed broadband access so our children can continue the learning process ...," Muri said.

Muri said ECISD has worked diligently with the local community and state officials to explore opportunities for students, but also looking long-term.

"Short-term solutions are not the answer," Muri said. "We need solutions that provide permanent solutions, permanent opportunities for kids not only in ECISD but across our state and across our nation ..."

Bentley said one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is being able to collaborate with visionary leaders.

"When the Permian Strategic Partnership was formed nearly two years ago, our intent was to look at the entire Basin and identify areas in which we could make real and lasting impacts that will benefit our communities. We eventually identified some specific, yet broad initiatives -- safer roads, affordable housing, superior schools, a trained workforce and quality health care," Bentley said. "To address these issues, the Permian Strategic Partnership has been working in collaboration with elected officials, local leaders, community organizations and citizens from West Texas and Southeast New Mexico. This collaboration is key to strengthening and improving the quality of life for the residents of the Permian Basin. As we continue identifying ways we can continue to make our communities even better, it has become clear that one such focus should be connecting the Permian Basin."

"We all know that access to broadband is essential for the success of our region. Unfortunately, there are far too many people who lack this access. This unserved need has become especially apparent over the last few months and it is imperative that we work together to address this most importantly to meet the needs of our schools and our school children," she added.

Bentley added that this is a chance for the Permian Basin to demonstrate what it can accomplish when the right people are brought to the table.

"We are not just a leader in energy production," Bentley said. "We are a leader in implementing innovative ideas to solve our most pressing needs and I look forward to future partnerships such as this."

Landgraf noted that is this a bold project poised to transform the life of about 1 million rural Texans.

"This is a spark that is going to spread across the state of Texas that is going to transform lives in a very meaningful way, because as we stand here today, there are a million Texans in rural parts of the state and thousands of others even in the middle of urban areas who have been left on the wrong side of the digital divide. We've already talked about this morning about why broadband access is so important for health, for commerce and for educational attainment, especially in 2020 and especially amid a pandemic," Landgraf said.

He added that the project provides a blueprint for other remote areas of the state to bridge the digital divide. He added that the impact can't be underestimated.

A national call is being made for federal action to end the digital divide. Our state and national leaders like Landgraf and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R- Texas, have taken up the torch to push for ubiquitous broadband internet for all, using Ector County ISD as a case study. Additionally, national PTA President Leslie Boggs testified before Congress about this critical need and referenced ECISD as an exemplar working to find innovative and permanent solutions, a news release said.

Abalos praised Muri, his team and the partners in the venture.

"I don't live very far from here, so I understand internet problems. But at least we have it. Some of these people don't have any access. This is a great project," Abalos said. "One of the school board's projects is to provide equity in the form of a high-quality education for all our students, and right now, equity is a big subject. We really are focused on equity for all of our students and this really helps us. It is going to help us do that."

"I am beyond proud to know that ECISD is the first school district in the United States to use the SpaceX Starlink satellite to provide internet service for our students. It's unreal in my opinion. It's like science fiction, so I am really excited about what's going on. We'll continue the search for innovative ways to support our students and create opportunities for them to pursue their dreams because we truly believe that our students are the future and we have a great team leading them," she added.

(c)2020 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.