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Starlink, what is it, how do I get it, and for how much?

In 2015, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced a Seattle-based office focused on satellites and “rebuilding the internet in space.” 

Over eight years later, SpaceX has launched more than 5,000 Starlink satellites and has coverage on all seven continents. The company posted that it now has over 2 million active customers in more than 60 countries.

Starlink gained massive media attention for their involvement supplying satellite internet service to Ukraine during the ongoing Russian invasion — which will mark 2 years since the start of the invasion on February 24.

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SOURCE: Starlink

Locally, SpaceX has a rather large presence in Redmond, where they research and develop the broadband internet satellites for Starlink. As such, the Lynnwood Times decided to look into getting Starlink service.

Signing up for Starlink appears to be rather straightforward. The website will prompt users to enter the service address, with much of the United States being eligible for service. One can connect the satellite internet service with homes, boat, mountains…pretty much anywhere!

Starlink coverage service in the US and Caribbean. SOURCE: Starlink.

After checking for availability, the website will ask for the type of service plan and whether the customer will rent or purchase the necessary equipment. It will prompt the user for payment, confirm their email address, and provide steps to finish creating their account. When signing up, potential customers may have to join a waitlist depending on the services selected. Starlink may also require a preorder deposit. 

Starlink’s service plans can be broken down into two categories: a static/single location or mobile/on-the-go service. Each of these categories then has either standard or priority service. Priority comes with the standard service perks, but also includes a public IP, network priority and priority support. Mobile priority also allows users to be in-motion while using it — standard mobile only supports under 10 mph of in-motion service — and allows for usage on the ocean.

The cost of Starlink is, subjectively, on the expensive side. 

At the time of publishing, the standard hardware costs $599 and is recommended for both standard single location and mobile service plans. A single location monthly service plan will run $120/month while mobile offers regional service for $150/month and global for $200/month.

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Starlink starter kit. SOURCE: Starlink.

Priority single location and priority mobile recommends the flat high performance hardware, which costs $2,500. Both priority services are tiered based on the amount of priority data. Single location runs at $140/month for 40GB, $250/month for 1TB, and $500/month for 2TB. Mobile priority costs $250/month for 50GB, $1,000/month for 1TB, and $5,000/month for 5TB.

Musk is sometimes credited saying there is an unmet demand worldwide for low-cost broadband capabilities. While Musk did indicate during the 2015 event that the planned satellite service could be an option for lower income areas, he did not illustrate a desire for affordability. 

“So it’s something that would both provide optionality for people living in advanced economies, as well as people in poor countries that don’t even have electricity or fiber or anything like that,” Musk said at the Seattle Center in 2015. “So it’s a real enabler for people in poor nations in the world and it gives optionality for people in wealthier countries.”

This doesn’t only apply to “poor countries,” as broadband access in rural America is still lacking, with an estimated 42 million Americans having no access to broadband. This makes satellite a viable option for these locations. However, pricing still remains an issue.

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Percentage of units without funding or availability. The dark blue areas are 80-100% to the lighter blue of 0-20% without funding. SOURCE: Federal Communications Commission

When asked about pricing during a Q&A with the audience, Musk stated that the satellite venture “is intended to generate a significant amount of revenue and help fund a city on Mars.”

Last year, Musk posted that Starlink “achieved breakeven cash flow,” with the Wall Street Journal reporting $1.4 billion in revenue from Starlink in 2022.

Back in September, Starlink unveiled a new “community gateway” in Unalaska, Alaska. These aren’t intended as a new service for general consumers, but for internet service providers to bolster high-speed internet connections in remote areas. The cost, according to PCMag, is substantial: $1.25 million up front and $75,000 a month. This hefty price does come with a dedicated facility that can receive up to 10GBps, but many local ISPs may be unwilling to pay such costs for remote areas.

While it is unlikely Starlink will lower their prices, there could be some discounts in the future for qualifying individual households. 

Space Wars and Satellite Broadband. SOURCE: Broadband Breakfast

In a Broadband Breakfast webcast back in December, SpaceX Vice President of Satellite Policy David Goldman stated that Starlink plans to join the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

“We are eligible for it, and we are planning on participating,” Goldman said. “We haven’t turned it on yet.”

Through the Affordable Connectivity Program, eligible households can receive up to a $30/month reduction on their bill, with that amount going up to $75/month for those on qualifying Tribal lands. 

However, it appears that enrollment for this program ends on February 7, 2024, if Congressional action is not taken to continue funding of the program past April. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this could cause up to 23 million households in the United States to lose access to affordable internet.

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