The hills of Big Sur are abuzz with the promise of high-speed internet. Starlink, a division of billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company, is promising coverage in mid to late 2021 and people are already lining up, paying a $99 deposit to secure their spot in a first-come, first-served line.
Starlink is satellite internet. As such it is promising for areas that have traditionally struggled with ground infrastructure – remote, rugged, rural places.
But in contrast to existing satellite internet, where your dish connects to a large geosynchronous satellite far from Earth, Musk’s company is working to deploy a huge “constellation” of small satellites into low-Earth orbit. According to Starlink, their satellites are more than 60 times closer to the Earth compared to the traditional – the company has launched more than 1,000 satellites since 2018, and currently serves more than 10,000 customers at northern latitudes in the United States and abroad. It says it will need 10,000 satellites before providing coverage to a majority of the globe.
What all this means for the average customer is much faster internet. Big Sur resident Meadow DeVor signed up as soon as she heard about Starlink. Her current internet service is “really terrible,” she says. “It’s impossible to run a business.”
Kyle Evans, who works remotely for an IT company from Big Sur, calls internet service the area’s “limiting factor.” Better connectivity will mean better learning outcomes for children in Big Sur, better reception for emergency services and, he adds, it could help diversify the local economy away from tourism-based industries that crash any time the road closes. “I’m very excited to see better internet come to the Big Sur area,” Evans says.
Evans has done a lot of research into rural internet. Starlink isn’t the solution for everyone – because of the way the dish can connect to any of the service’s many satellites, customers need significant visibility of the sky to ensure good service. (He recommends would-be customers download the Starlink app to check their field of view before ordering.)
Of course, there are those who aren’t excited about bringing connectivity to a remote place. Evans understands – he shares a concern about what thousands of satellites will look like in the night sky.
“The only thing that I want to do is listen to the science, and look at the research… similar to any other subject,” he says. “Any major change in technology is really complicated.”