Examining The Rural Internet

Examining The Rural Internet

There are a lot of disadvantages of living in a rural area that can outweigh the positives, and none so more than in today’s age. Throughout elementary school I lived on a small farm where we raised tobacco and beef. The farm, situated behind a much larger farm, was quite a bit off the main road. The only utilities available (then and now) were telephone and electricity. Our water, oil, and wastewater was shipped in (or shipped out in the case of the latter). In some regards, living “off the grid” and having a boat load of privacy appeals to many people. Then reality sets in and none so much as it relates to internet access. This is foremost the reason I will never live back in the country again.

Although I live in the suburbs now, I still keep up with a Facebook page of people who live in the area. Most posts revolve around loose cattle/horses/goats, but there is a seething ongoing discussion concerning the dissatisfaction remote work on terrible internet access. The majority of opinions are that the government should be pressuring internet companies to run cable/fiber to their homes, which would require massive subsidies, and is a check nobody wants to write. It’s an issue that plagues most rural communities throughout the United States and there aren’t many options for them outside government intervention. Unfortunately we live in a trickle down economy, and that trickle isn’t making it too far out into the country.

If you look at the history of internet delivery there are some options but not really great ones. WiMax seemed to offer some relief for rural communities, but that’s basically been written off as ineffective because of how obstructions can block it.  3G and 4G is available, but that can be expensive and is not nearly as fast as a direct hookup. 5G and fiber will never happen given the distances involved. The only real option right now is to pay several thousand dollars to get hooked up if and when the utility runs a line down the main road. The truth is it’s just not economical. Unlike electricity, internet access is not a utility and it’s not guaranteed to be ran to anyone who wants it.

Enter Elon Musk.

Elon’s greatest gift is the ability to identify under served markets and untapped demand. He’s done it with his space program, solar and battery manufacturing, and electric cars. Whether they work out or not is one thing, but you have to admit the markets he targes were wide open. His latest venture, and something I believe in, will provide internet access to the huge range of under served people throughout the world. It is called StarLink and it will be a game changer.

Starlink expect to serve global rural communities and those on cruise ships or in the air. I don’t think the latter two will be of much consequence, but reaching the rural community which is starving for a viable option for connectivity will be enormous. As of this point Musk has received all of the government clearances he needs to make this happen. Next is just hammering out how the data will be received by its subscribers and what that hardware will cost.

If StarLink works it will remake everything in between the coasts. People will leave expensive cities and move to rural ones given that the pandemic has made remote work viable. Imagine buying 500 acres of wooded Kentucky farmland for a fraction of the cost of a three bedroom house in San Francisco. If you think people will pass on that chance I disagree. We could see a mass migration of people fed up with being cramped in their tiny apartments without the ability to go to restaurants/bars/pubs. Friends of mine are leaving the West Coast because of that very reason. The appeal has worn off.

I came across this video which presents a StarLink launch and walks through how they partner it with a SpaceX launch. It’s really cool if you’re into this kind of stuff. How they worked out the reuse of he rockets by having it touch down on a launch pad is pretty tremendous. It is in my opinion that it will be the best option for rural communities. My take is many are skeptical of it and that it won’t make their lives any better because the conversation has come up on the Facebook page I visited.