The South Cariboo is jumping on the Starlink bandwagon.
Residents around 100 Mile House and Forest Grove have already started to make the switch from Telus and Shaw’s routers to Starlink’s new satellite dish, with the Forest Grove post office processing several units over the last few weeks. Local residents join more than 10,000 subscribers to the service, which users say is desperately needed, especially in rural areas.
“You can’t even compare. We’ve gone around and around with Telus, we had Xplornet at one time and it was just super frustrating,” said Shane Gunn, a Horse Lake resident who has had Starlink for a month and can now run multiple devices including his TV and computer.
An ambitious project launched by Elon Musk and SpaceX, Starlink aims to bring broadband internet to the entire world through the launch of over 12,000 satellites to form a satellite internet constellation in Earth’s orbit. Currently, just over 1,000 of these satellites have been launched and with them a beta test of the service across the North American continent.
Gunn, who received his satellite dish within a week after he was accepted for Starlink in January, said while the buy-in price is substantial - he paid $649, plus shipping, for the equipment and $129 a month for access to the internet - it’s worth it. Gunn intends to keep it as he said it’s portable and can be even hooked up at his family’s cabin.
Forest Grove resident Lisa Grey, a director of a quality assurance team that liaises with team members all over the world, agreed, saying she expects the service will pay for itself within three months. She noted she used to pay up to $400 a month for her previous internet service, which could run as slow as 1.7 megabytes per second.
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By contrast, her new Starlink-provided internet consistently runs at 86 megabytes per second. When the service exits the beta testing, Grey said she’s been told they’ll be able to expect 100-200 megabytes per second with regularity.
“The lag time to access the Xplornet satellite and back was a surprising amount of time, which not only slowed down everything you were doing but for video calls, which I do a lot of, it really slowed things down,” Grey said, adding this would be especially bad in the evening when her neighbours returned home and began using the internet themselves.
She noted signing up for Starlink was easy. All she had to do was go onto its website and provide her address and email and then wait to be contacted. In fact, Grey said you can download the Starlink app to test whether or not you could get access to the service from your own home, simply by pointing your phone at the sky.
“We kind of pictured it never coming here, but a few weeks ago I received the email saying it was available here and I was excited,” said Grey. “I was ridiculously happy, so excited. It felt like Christmas, a new lease on life.”
StarLink did not return a request for an interview by press time.
Grey said she is surprised Xplornet seems to be doing nothing to compete with Starlink at this time. She’s hopeful that the price of Starlink will go down as more people purchase the service, or that other internet companies will do what they can to improve their own rural internet services.
Maureen LeBourdais, chair of the Cariboo Regional District’s broadband committee, said such a large infrastructure project will be difficult to do but absolutely necessary, as access to the internet varies across the Cariboo due to landscape.
COVID-19 has brought the issue of rural connectivity to the forefront, LeBourdais said, and if Canada as a whole doesn’t begin the process of modernizing broadband services for everyone, the country will be hurt economically. The CRD has just wrapped up a survey on broadband and cell service in the region.
“The three questions for the CRD are how are we going to do this, how much is it going to cost and who is going to pay for it?” LeBourdais said, adding that their first priority is setting a goal for what they need to deliver.
From what she’s heard about the Starlink beta test, the service looks promising, she said. Low elevation satellites like that are good but the questions of security and stability and the fact it’s a private venture are well beyond the CRD’s mandate.
Based on discussions with other regional districts and provincial officials, LeBourdais said the best way for the CRD to bring reliable internet to rural areas is laying fibreoptic cables in the ground. However, she acknowledges this won’t work for everyone and a mix of solutions will be required.
“This is critical infrastructure for rural communities, for everyone, so it’s got to happen,” LeBourdais said. “I just think doing the survey, I know it’s created excitement and perhaps expectations. We want to live up to that but it’s going to cost a lot of money to do this.”
She’s hopeful both the federal and provincial governments will help bring broadband internet to the region. In the meantime, she invites those who have begun using Starlink to reach out to her and tell her about how it’s working.
Gunn maintains the service is a marked improvement. All he needed to do was install the satellite dish in an area with a clear view of the sky and then connect it to his wifi router and within a few minutes, he had internet. So far, he added, the device hasn’t had any difficulty dealing with the Canadian winter, the excess heat of the dish even melting any snow that falls upon it.
“I think it’s going to change how we connect with the world in these rural areas where it is challenging for companies to provide good internet service. Pretty soon you’ll be able to be (connected) at your cabin way out in the sticks or up on a mountain.”