Cherokee Nation Using Starlink to Connect Members in Rural Oklahoma

Following the success of Washington State’s Hoh Tribe’s use of Starlink to connect members to online opportunities, the Cherokee Nation is setting up Starlink’s satellite Internet service for members who live on its reservation in northeastern Oklahoma.

More than 141,000 Cherokee people live on the tribe’s reservation in Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. recently spoke with local news station 5News about efforts to connect members who have previously lacked Internet access.

This is a very rural region and, like many rural areas, there often aren’t very many good options for Internet access. The ones that exist are often slow, unreliable, or unaffordable. Lack of reliable Internet has been a concern that can easily be overlooked by people who can hop online on a moment’s notice to access job opportunities, online education, or telehealth services. Cherokee representatives say that this has especially been a concern for some of their Cherokee-speaking elders.

“Some of the first to receive the internet system was Cherokee speakers Jack and Brenda Bush. The Bushes missed out on many telehealth appointments this year due to a poor Internet connection. Now, with Starlink, they have access to high-speed internet that is allowing them to connect like never before,” they said in a Facebook post.

Now the Bushes can easily communicate over video chat services and actually did speak with members of the Cherokee Nation’s leadership on Zoom during a test of their new Starlink Internet service.

Likewise, Hoskin has expressed his hope that Cherokees will take advantage of the new opportunities made possible by more reliable and affordable Internet access.

“Every kid, every Cherokee kid that grows up, I don’t care where they grow up, they shouldn’t have a disadvantage when it comes to something that’s as basic anymore as getting online and getting an education, getting a job,” he told 5News.

SpaceX has indicated that it has no plans for tiered pricing but does plan to have a lower-cost option for low-income families that may include VoIP, or “Internet phone,” services. Access to Starlink costs $99 per month with a one-time $499 fee for the equipment needed to access Starlink’s satellite constellation, though it is working on bringing the cost of that equipment down.

It is also working with the U.S. FCC and UK’s “Project Gigabit” to develop broadband Internet service for rural areas. Starlink is currently licensed to operate in the United States, parts of Canada, Australia, and parts of Europe, and has recently added Chile to that list as part of a pilot program to test the use of Starlink in isolated communities.

SpaceX has been aggressively working to develop the Starlink constellation with launches of a new batch of 60 satellites every couple of weeks. When it’s complete, the Starlink constellation could have as many as 42,000 satellites that it operates in a low enough orbit to allow for the lowest possible latency for Internet access from space.

SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in a recent interview that the total satellite Internet market could be worth as much as $1 trillion, demonstrating the size of the untapped market for reliable Internet access in rural areas that have previously been neglected when developing infrastructure for Internet access. Elon Musk backed that up by saying that there are already more than 500,000 reservations for Starlink access. Populations like the Cherokee Nation are increasingly recognizing the opportunities that could come with improved Internet access.