The Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) in Odessa, Texas has announced that dozens of families residing in the area will be receiving free internet service from Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system. The families are expected to get internet access from Starlink sometime in early 2021.
In a press release, the ECISD announced that it is the first school district that will be harnessing the advantages of SpaceX’s satellite constellation, which is designed to provide stable web connectivity to areas that could not be serviced by conventional internet systems. The ECISD noted that 45 families would initially get the free service next year, and another 45 will follow once Starlink’s network capabilities grow.
The families who will receive free internet connectivity will be determined by the school district.
“Ector County ISD is the first school district in the United States to work with SpaceX in harnessing its Starlink satellite constellation to deliver high-speed, low-latency Internet access for ECISD students. The project will initially provide free Internet service to 45 families in the Pleasant Farms area of south Ector County. The school district will identify the families and facilitate delivery of the necessary equipment to those homes. The service will be active early in 2021. As the network capabilities continue to grow, it will expand to serve an additional 90 Ector County families,” the press release noted.
ECISD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Scott Muri is optimistic about the free internet service that will be provided by Elon Musk’s private space company. According to Muri, Starlink should allow the county to take a step towards closing the digital divide that still exists today, which results in some students not having access to the world wide web.
School officials noted that this issue became evident during the pandemic, especially when students had to transition to remote learning. A survey from district officials found that about 39% of families in the area have limited to no internet access at all.
“This innovative partnership represents bold and unprecedented action for our school district and our community. Our research clearly indicates the lack of broadband access is a crisis in Ector County. In collaboration with SpaceX, we are providing space-based Internet service to students and families that have few, if any, options. The partners with us share our vision for equity and access for all students. Today, we take a giant leap forward in closing the digital divide that exists within our community,” he said.
SpaceX has started an invitation-only public beta for Starlink. Pricing for the system, at least for the beta, involves a fee of $499 for the phased array antenna and a $99 monthly fee for internet service. Internet speeds for the program, which SpaceX lightly calls the “Better than Nothing” beta, are estimated to be between 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps.