Opinion: Starlink connects indigenous North American Hoh Tribe to the Internet but not all tribes welcome satellites

Karen Madej

The FCC Eighth Broadband Progress Report finds that approximately 19 million Americans—6 percent of the population—still lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds. In rural areas, nearly one-fourth of the population —14.5 million people—lack access to this service.  In tribal areas, nearly one-third of the population lacks access.

Internet inequality

Starlink is designed to cover remote areas and claims: "Users can expect to see download speeds between 100 Mb/s and 200 Mb/s and latency as low as 20ms in most locations."

The good news is that the Washington State Department of Commerce Broadband Office hooked up the Hoh Tribe and Starlink to get the community internet speeds of 100Mbps. Page loading speeds of 30 milliseconds compare well with urban fiber optic delivery speeds.

From almost no connectivity to the type of connection that allows access to jobs, education in videos, healthcare - such as telebehavioral health, basically the tribe has joined the 21st century!

Light Pollution

The problem with satellites is that they reflect a lot of light and obscure the stars. Not all indigenous tribes agree with launching thousands of satellites into LEO. SpaceX's Satellite Megaconstellations Are Astrocolonialism, Indigenous Advocates Say:

The erasure of the night sky acts to erase Indigenous connection to the stars, acting as a form of ongoing cultural and ecological genocide. Duane W. Hamacher, Krystal de Napoli, Bon Mott

However, in 2020, SpaceX implemented software changes to make Starlink satellites naturally invisible to the eye in less than a week from launch. Darkened satellites won't flood astronomers' observatory detectors with light thanks to visors blocking the sun from reflecting off the brightest parts of the satellite.

Starlink leads the industry in innovations to reduce satellite brightness, minimize the impact on astronomy, and protect the natural night sky for all to enjoy.

Amazon is working with National Science Foundation and the American Astronomical Society to reduce its satellite visibility. One of their two prototypes will test a sunshade to see if it will decrease reflectivity and lessen light pollution when viewing the skies through Earth-based telescopes. The launch of the first two Project Kuiper LEO satellites will take place in the last quarter of 2022.

Affordable Connectivity Program

If you live in remote areas of the US, Russ Elliot, director of the Washington State Broadband Office, encourages you and your community to take the speed test.

The Washington State Broadband Office mapping initiative will help identify gaps in high-speed internet service and areas of broadband infrastructure needs in order to advance the state’s goal to have universal broadband access in Washington by 2024.

If you live in the United States but you don't have broadband because you can't afford it, you can enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program by visiting www.ACPbenefit.org.

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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.

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