Eau Claire Co. gets early access to test SpaceX Starlink internet service

File-In this photo taken May 6, 2021, with a long exposure, a string of SpaceX StarLink...
File-In this photo taken May 6, 2021, with a long exposure, a string of SpaceX StarLink satellites passes over an old stone house near Florence, Kan. The train of lights was actually a series of relatively low-flying satellites launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX as part of its Starlink internet service earlier this week.(AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann, File)
Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 5:13 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - SpaceX will provide high-speed internet access to dozens of Eau Claire Co. residents as part of a pilot program designed to test the company’s new Starlink system, which uses satellites placed in low Earth orbit to offer broadband speeds to rural customers who might not otherwise have access.

Gov. Tony Evers teamed up with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Thursday to announce the new partnership with Elon Musk’s company, which the governor’s office described as part of its efforts to highlight the importance of reliable, high-speed access for everyone.

“We know that having access to reliable, affordable internet is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Gov. Evers said. “Making sure that every Wisconsinite has access to this vital service is going to require creativity and innovation, and that’s the kind of approach WEDC’s investment in Starlink demonstrates.”

Under the program, Eau Claire Co. and the WEDC will pay the $499 equipment fee and the $99/month service fee for each of the 50 participating households for the next year. The funds are coming from a $27,500 Capacity Building Grant from the agency as will as a collection of healthcare providers who are participating in the project.

Starlink, which is in beta both nationally and internationally, differs from typical satellite internet providers by using satellites in low-Earth orbit as opposed to traditional ones. Proponents expect by flying closer to Earth, they will cut down on latency times when online. Many of the satellites have been spotted frequently over the Wisconsin night sky over the past few weeks.

Eau Claire Co. users will help gauge how effective the service is for work, accessing healthcare, and attending online classes, the Governor’s Office explained. One person who’s already enrolled, Luke Annandale, explained how having broadband access will allow him to study nursing online at Chippewa Valley Technical College this year.

Without it, Annadale would have to drive an hour each way to Eau Claire to attend classes in person – and that is after working full time all night. He had tried other satellite services, but found they frequently cut out at a certain point in the day, and that was naturally when he needed it to work the most, Annadale explained.

As part of Evers push toward increasing broadband access, the governor has earmarked approximately $200 million over the next two years to expanding the infrastructure and helping low-income individuals afford access.

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