Elon Musk’s SpaceX has partnered with a public school system in West Texas to deliver fast, low-latency internet to students residing in areas where connectivity is inadequate, unaffordable, or non-existent.
A recent press release issued by the Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) said the project “will be active in early 2021,” initially providing 45 families with free access to the web through the aerospace company’s emerging Starlink service. SpaceX launched its public beta test for the space-based communications network last week.
“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,” said ECISD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Scott Muri. “But because of SpaceX 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.”
We are excited and proud to announce ECISD is the first school district to utilize the #SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation to provide Internet access for students. #ECISDLeads #TheFutureisNowEC@chiefsforchange@SpaceX pic.twitter.com/7DtdMUGqt5
— Ector County ISD (@EctorCountyISD) October 20, 2020
As capabilities progress, the endeavor will expand to serve an additional 90 households. The deal will reportedly cost the district $300,000, half of which will be funded by Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit supporting education systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The contagion helped expose the digital disparities in many rural regions. After lockdowns forced the closure of schools last spring, ECISD leaders found “some 39% of families have limited to no Internet access,” citing surveys of teachers, students, and other community members. Nationwide, children in homes that lacked sufficient internet service faced disadvantages when schools transitioned to online learning strategies.
“Our research clearly indicated the lack of broadband access is a crisis in Ector County,” Dr. Muri said.
There is no financial incentive for telecommunications companies to provide many low-density areas with quality high-speed internet infrastructure. The installation expenses are often passed on to consumers, which, according to The Washington Post, “can cost a neighborhood block tens of thousands of dollars.”
As The Daily Wire recently reported, other SpaceX partners have already tested the Starlink service in remote parts of the country. An official representing the Native American Hoh Tribe in the Pacific Northwest said it “catapulted us into the 21st century,” while a government agency in Washington state has been using the technology to help rebuild a town that was overcome by wildfires.
Washington's emergency response team is working with SpaceX to bring satellite internet to places devastated by recent wildfires. I spoke to the team's telecom lead, who is deploying 7 Starlink terminals:
— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) September 29, 2020
ECISD is the first school district to partner with the California rocket maker.
“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,” said Republican State Rep. Brooks Landgraf of Odessa, whose district includes Ector County. “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.”
SpaceX plans to rapidly expand Starlink to provide “near-global coverage of the populated world by 2021.”