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SpaceX Connects Rural Washington Communities Via Satellite

Thanks to partnerships with the Washington Emergency Management Division and State Department of Commerce, SpaceX Starlink satellites have connected both a fire-stricken town and a tribal reservation to high-speed Internet.

by / October 15, 2020
Shutterstock/Andrey VP

Rural areas of Washington have received much-needed high-speed Internet through Starlink, the satellite broadband service of Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX. 

Seven terminals are enabling broadband in the rural town of Malden, which saw the overwhelming majority of its buildings and houses burned down by a wildfire in September. The connectivity has benefitted both Malden residents and firefighters, who have utilized “the terminals in their incident command vehicles to request resources, organize daily activities and make decisions, such as ordering helicopters for wildfire fighting activities,” according to CNN.  

Most of Malden’s broadband infrastructure had been destroyed. Steven Friederich, public information officer for the Washington Emergency Management Division (WEMD), told CNN that the terminals can provide a lifeline for areas affected by various types of disasters and that WEMD might incorporate the technology into its long-term communication toolkit. 

Experts consider satellite Internet a critical resource for communities recovering from disasters because of how quickly satellite infrastructure can be set up.  

In other news, the Washington State Department of Commerce released a video last week showing that Starlink has helped connect the Hoh Tribe Reservation. The Washington State Broadband Office facilitated a meeting between representatives of the tribe and SpaceX. 

The Hoh Tribe had faced severe connectivity challenges.   

“Hoh Tribe is 23 miles south of Forks, Wash.,” Melvinjohn Ashue, vice chairman of the tribe, said in the video. “We’re very remote. The last eight years I felt like we had been paddling upriver with a spoon and almost getting nowhere with getting Internet to the reservation.”

Ashue further noted that it seemed as if SpaceX came out of nowhere “and catapulted us into the 21st century.”

“Our youth are able to do education online, participate in videos,” Ashue said. “Telehealth is no longer going to be an issue.” 

SpaceX could get funding from the federal government in the near future. SpaceNews reported that SpaceX, along with satellite Internet competitors HughesNet and Viasat, made it onto the Federal Communications Commission’s list of providers who can bid for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund money, which totals to $20.4 billion, this fall. 

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