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COLUMN — Starlink could bring broadband access to Lunenburg

The problem of Lunenburg County’s lack of access to high-speed internet may be being solved just west of here in Wise County.

Titus Mohler’s story in today’s print edition and online at KVDispatch.com details how Elon Musk’s Starlink internet service is solving the problem of broadband access in one of the most rural areas of Virginia.

Wise County’s current experiment with the new satellite-based Starlink service provides broadband service without the infrastructure expense of running lines to each house, or the topography issues of trying to get Wi-Fi signals to everyone. With Starlink, if you can see the sky you can get access to the internet.

No more working with land-based providers who want last-mile subsidies for potential customers where populations are sparse. Starlink provides a connection free of wires and the bureaucracy of deciding where those wires can go.

The worry going into the project for many was that the service was not going to be fast enough to be useful. Current satellite providers who rely on one satellite stationed 26,000 miles above the earth in geosynchronous orbit have much slower service than needed for reliable internet access. So far, the Wise County trials have shown speeds from 60 mbps to 140 mbps with promises the system can produce speeds as high as 300 mbps. With this system, rural Americans can go from no broadband or spotty service through a hotspot to bingeing Netflix shows.

This advancement has the potential to revolutionize industries that have typically suffered from a lack of broadband such as farming, virtual education and working remotely.

In the post-pandemic economy, remote working and remote learning will not suddenly go away. The overhead costs of brick and mortar facilities for businesses and institutions of higher learning will continue to allow many to work from whereever they want. The barrier to working remotely in scenic rural settings such as Southside Virginia has been the severe lack of high-speed internet. This solves that problem and lets those who live in Lunenburg get high-paying jobs and learn from the best institutions in the world without ever leaving home. This will help keep talent and tax dollars in Lunenburg while also allowing the county to attract more people who enjoy the relaxed rural lifestyle while having high-paying positions they can do from anywhere.

Whether or not you appreciate Starlink’s eccentric founder, it is hard to argue with his success.

In the past 20 years, he has founded a leading electric car company, began a private space transportation system and now a satellite-based internet service. In the next 10 years, Musk could be providing our cars as well as internet. Tesla’s whole house battery powered by solar panels is ramping up as well, so his company could also provide a large portion of the country’s future electric service.

He is without a doubt a modern-day Thomas Edison who not only has the ideas but the funds and backing to see what works and what doesn’t.

Like Edison, who tested more than 6,000 filament materials before finding the right one for the incandescent light bulb, Musk isn’t afraid to fail as evidenced by the number of Starship prototypes that have met their end in fiery explosions the past few months.

Congratulations to the Wise County leaders who saw this opportunity and raised their hands to volunteer to test it.

Lunenburg’s leaders need to take a look at the results and take similar actions. Regardless of whether classes are being held in the schools or at home, our children deserve the same advantages as those where broadband access is plentiful.

Instead of letting all this broadband grant funding pass by while waiting on land-based internet providers to string wires to homes, the county can do the same as Wise County and provide grants to families with no opportunity for broadband service to get them started with the satellite dishes to receive Starlink service.

The broadband solution has arrived. It is time for local governments to find a way to take advantage of this new technology to move the area past this broadband bottleneck and into a future where internet service comes from the sky.

Roger Watson is editor of The Kenbridge-Victoria Dispatch and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. His email address is Roger.Watson@KVDispatch.com.