In the high country of south central Colorado, Stan Gones relies on satellite Internet constellation Starlink to homeschool his kids and work his remote job.
“Before, our only viable option was fixed wireless which works off line of sight,” he said. “Whenever we had storms the connection would become spotty or even unusable.”
When broadcast points positioned on surrounding mountains lost direct sunshine, the solar-powered batteries would die quickly and kick his family offline. Cloudy weather, hardly uncommon at 8000 feet, could interrupt their Internet service for days.
“Outages were frequent and speeds were pretty dismal,” Mr. Gones said. “Starlink was a gamechanger for us. Nearly cable internet speeds with excellent dependability and easy setup. Other forms of Internet require being close to a city or sacrificing speed and dependability. It’s almost like they want to keep you closer to the metropolis.”
For years, the Biden Administration has said expanding rural broadband is one of its top priorities, even establishing the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) for this purpose. So it came as a surprise to some when, last month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it is denying funding to Starlink for the second year in a row, alleging the Internet provider has “failed to demonstrate that it could deliver the promised service.”
When we asked readers to describe their experiences with rural Internet connectivity, over and over again we heard that Starlink is the best or only option. Eric Newell’s home in Alaska can’t be accessed except by floatplane, but he has a great Internet connection thanks to Starlink. “No cell service and the Starlink service was better than any typical provider in the lower 48,” he told us. Sarah Miles in rural British Columbia said, “Without Starlink our access to reliable Internet is basically non-existent. Even cell service is so terrible we couldn’t talk on the phone before getting Starlink.”
Many believe the real reason Starlink is getting the cold shoulder has to do with President Biden’s personal feelings toward its founder–outspoken billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
FCC Commissioners Call Foul
Ever since Mr. Musk purchased X (formerly known as Twitter) and declared it a home for free speech on the Internet, his various businesses have received a fresh wave of interest from the federal government.
Both Republican commissioners at the FCC opposed the decision to deny a $886 million subsidy to Starlink. In his dissent, Commissioner Brendan Carr flat out accused the agency basing the decision on Mr. Musk’s politics.
“The Biden Administration is choosing to prioritize its political and ideological goals at the expense of connecting Americans,” Mr. Carr wrote.
Insiders Say Elon Musk Is a Political Target
Mr. Carr went on to detail what he sees as widespread political persecution against Mr. Musk:
“Last year, after Elon Musk acquired Twitter and used it to voice his own political and ideological views without a filter, President Biden gave federal agencies a greenlight to go after him.
During a press conference at the White House, President Biden stood at a podium adorned with the official seal of the President of the United States, and expressed his view that Elon Musk ‘is worth being looked at.’
When pressed by a reporter to explain how the government would look into Elon Musk, President Biden remarked: ‘There’s a lot of ways.’
There certainly are.
The Department of Justice, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have all initiated investigations into Elon Musk or his businesses. Today, the Federal Communications Commission adds itself to the growing list of administrative agencies that are taking action against Elon Musk’s businesses.”
The head of legal at SpaceX sent a letter to the FCC emphasizing that Starlink is “arguably the only viable option” to connect rural and remote areas of the country — the “very people RDOF was supposed to connect.”
Rural Americans Speak Out
If Elon Musk is a target of the Biden administration’s personal animus, rural America is caught in the crossfire.
Bethany Baird lives in the mountains outside of Boise, Idaho. She was one of the first in her area to get Starlink when it was offered in a beta version. “My kids attend an online school and I work from home as a National Institute for Learning Development (NILD) educational therapist,” she said. “My work would not have been possible on either of the internet providers we had before.”
Lauren Meccage in Southeastern Montana uses Starlink to manage her family ranch business. “I used to work remotely for USDA,” she said. “After much searching it was the only reliable internet I was able to find that didn’t have data limitations that would slow my use down excessively and was affordable for us. The hardwired internet from our local company was terrible, the speeds were so slow. I tried ViaSa, which our local communications company works with, but the data caps were low and the cost high. Starlink came highly recommended from neighbors. Once we got the Starlink mounted on the roof it has worked flawlessly! When whole USDA offices would have network problems and be down my connection would be working!”
Olivia Tse DonOlsen lives off grid outside Taos, New Mexico. She says Starlink has been a major solution for her family, better than any other satellite service available. Other providers like HughesNet are a “nightmare” to work with, she says.
“They charge you if the equipment breaks, installs require a technician, and the service is pretty unreliable and slow,” she told us. She said Starlink charged a $600 start-up fee, but the customer service is excellent and her connection is fast and reliable. “They will replace broken equipment for free and send it to you within days. Setup is also really simple. Literally just downloading the app and plugging in the router and connecting to satellite.”
For President Biden, Serving Millions Comes Second to Personal Grudge
Many of these users feel frustrated that, once again, it seems the federal government is willing to pay rural citizens no more than lip service, nursing a petty personal grudge rather than take an opportunity to measurably improve their lives.
With or without funding, the private sector offers solutions where government fails. Reader A.T. says she finally installed Starlink after giving up on her local utility district in East Tennessee, which has failed to start their planned fiber optic cable project for years now.
“At least three others on our street have set up Starlink in the last year,” she said. “Our only other choice was satellite touting 25 MBPS which I believe won’t even meet minimum government standards of 100 MBPS soon.”