Just a week after news broke that SpaceX was gifting Starlink internet service to Washington State’s Emergency Management department, the state has revealed SpaceX’s satellites are also benefitting the Native American Hoh Tribe.
On October 6th, a Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched SpaceX’s 12th batch of operational Starlink satellites and 13th dedicated mission overall. Once all 60 Starlink-12 satellites – and several prior batches – reach their operational 550 km (~340 mi) orbits, CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX will be able to start rolling out “a fairly wide public beta in [the] northern US [and southern Canada].” Already, though, SpaceX has enough Starlink satellites in operational orbits to begin seriously testing the space-based internet network through a series of private betas.
While mostly centered around those within the general SpaceX circle (employees, families, company facilities, etc), the company has begun to highlight early trials with the kinds of customers and communities the constellation is optimal for. On September 28th, Washington’s Emergency Management division revealed that SpaceX had provided at least seven Starlink user terminals and (for now) free, unlimited internet service. In August, the division rapidly deployed the capability to at least one Washington region hit hard by summer wildfires, offering some level of connection to residents.
Interviewed by CNBC, Washington State Military Department emergency telecommunications leader Richard Hall heaped praise on SpaceX’s nascent satellite internet, noting that “I have never set up any tactical satellite equipment that has been as quick to set up, and anywhere near as reliable” and that “there’s really no comparison” between Starlink and alternatives.
Now, with SpaceX’s help and encouraged by the Washington State Military’s successes, the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Broadband Office has deployed Starlink terminals at the Hoh Tribe’s Reserve in Forks, WA. Remote and rural, Hoh Tribe Vice Chairman Melvinjohn Ashue described trying to work with the reservation’s existing communications infrastructure like “paddling up-river with a spoon” until Starlink’s introduction.
Ashue was at least as effusive as Hall, frankly stating that “it seemed like out of nowhere, SpaceX came up and just catapulted [the Hoh Tribe] into the 21st century.”
“And it seemed like out of nowhere SpaceX came up and just catapulted us into the 21st century. Our youth are able to do education online and participate in videos. Telehealth is no longer going to be an issue, as well as telemental health.
The Hoh Tribe is not alone. Many people in rural parts of [Washington] don’t have high-speed internet connectivity, but we’re changing that. We’re helping create partnerships and find resources so every community in our state can access this critical bridge to jobs, education, healthcare and so much more.”
– Hoh Tribe Vice Chairman Melvinjohn Ashue
Ultimately, Ashue’s praise helps illustrate the entire purpose of Starlink – at least at first. While given enough time and resources, SpaceX will assuredly serve Starlink internet to almost anyone on Earth, the company continues to reiterate that the constellation’s current goal is to help connect hundreds of millions of people around the world with poor service or no connectivity. Ashue notes that a high-quality internet connection can be used for online education, all kinds of digital healthcare services, jobs, and more, aside from the obvious benefits of simply being connected at all (entertainment, social enrichment, a near-infinite trove of knowledge, and more).
With a little luck, SpaceX’s Starlink program will continue to thrive and grow, ensuring that life-changing connectivity becomes the norm – rather than an exception – for emergency response services, rural Americans, Native Americans, and anyone else on Earth forced to settle with overpriced mediocrity or nothing at all.
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