SpaceX’s satellite internet plan receives green light from Canadian regulator

(Official SpaceX Photos / CC0)

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has given the green light to SpaceX’s plan for providing high-speed internet to areas with poor service using low Earth orbit satellites.

SpaceX is the space exploration and satellite company owned by Elon Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla.

SpaceX has received plenty of attention for its Starlink plan, which would see a constellation of up to 12,000 small (approximately 260 kg) satellites provide high-speed internet in hard-to-reach areas. As of Sunday, with the latest launch of SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket, 835 of these satellites are reportedly already orbiting Earth.

In a letter to SpaceX dated October 15, 2020, the CRTC says it received 2585 interventions or comments regarding the company’s application — many of these from rural Canadians.

“After consideration of the comments received, the Commission has approved the application and a BITS (Basic International Telecommunications Services) licence is enclosed,” says the letter, signed by the CRTC’s Claude Doucet.

SpaceX’s website still says it’s planning to provide internet in Canada and the northern U.S. before the end of 2020, but it’s becoming more likely that that timeline will prove to be overly optimistic. The company has been conducting preliminary testing.

In addition to the uncertainty about timeline and performance, there are also questions still to be answered regarding how Starlink’s internet access will be marketed — whether customers will deal directly with Starlink or through an internet service provider — and maybe more significant, what the cost will be for getting internet access, including the price of on-the-ground equipment.

SpaceX has estimated the entire StarLink constellation will cost at least US$10 billion to deploy.

The Starlink constellation is just one of several major efforts to provide internet with low-orbit satellites. Others include Telesat, which is based in Ottawa, and Amazon’s Kuiper project, another US$10 billion effort, which was launched last year.

More articles and interviews on the topic of improving internet access using low-orbit satellites:

Low-earth satellites getting closer to delivering high speed rural Internet

SpaceX launch could be a leap toward solving the rural internet problem

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