Chile Becomes First Latin American Nation to Gain Access to Starlink

The Chilean Subsecretariat of Telecommunications (SUBTEL) has granted SpaceX an experimental license for non-commercial operations of its Starlink Internet service providing satellite constellation. SUBTEL, the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications (MTT), and SpaceX are cooperating on a pilot program that will provide Internet access to rural and hard-to-reach communities in Chile.

According to communications between SpaceX president Glynn Shotwell and SUBTEL, Shotwell promoted Starlink as a service that can provide connectivity for remote communities like Caleta Sierra in the Coquimbo Region and Sotomó in the Los Lagos Region.

Starlink can provide “high-speed connectivity [that] can have a transformative impact on these communities and we are eager to support these pilot programs, starting with local schools,” she said.

If the pilot program is successful, SUBTEL and SpaceX plan to extend the collaboration to other remote communities and eventually the entire nation. SpaceX has already provided Starlink Kits to officials in Caleta Sierra and Sotomó. A Starlink Kit includes a phased-array dish antenna, Wi-Fi router, power supply, and mounting equipment. Normally, SpaceX manufactures the kit for about $1000 apiece and sells it to customers for $499. Elon Musk has recently discussed bringing manufacturing costs down even further.

The Chilean government will cover the costs of Internet access for one year, after which the municipal governments will take over the costs. Minister of Transport and Telecommunications Gloria Hutt promoted the plan as a way to rectify the lack of reliable high-speed Internet access that has held back some remote or low-income communities.

“Sometimes our geography makes the deployment of traditional broadband networks complex. For this reason, we are proud that the Starlink company has chosen Chile as a pioneer country in Latin America to start the deployment of its satellite internet project, providing capacity and high-speed connectivity to two locations in the country,” she said in a press release issued by the Chilean government.

Undersecretary of Economy Julio Pertuze cited the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide governments’ response to it as proof of the necessity of reliable Internet access. Many governments closed public schools and mandated the closure of most workplaces, which forced people to find alternatives like virtual learning for children and remote work over the Internet. However, this proved difficult for many families, which was highlighted by a story of one child who walked several miles to his closed school and back every day so that he could access its Wi-Fi.

SpaceX has previously worked with one school district in Texas to provide Internet access for low-income families living in the district and has a deal with Washington State’s Hoh Tribe to provide Internet access. The Hoh Tribe leadership said that it could provide its members with access to virtual education, telehealth services, and possible online job opportunities. It also has agreements with the United States and United Kingdom to develop broadband Internet service for rural communities.

Julio Pertuze called the new collaboration between Chile and SpaceX a “fundamental step so that each town and each community in our country has the possibility of connecting with the rest of the world. When we talk about the post-pandemic future, we cannot project it without cross-cutting connectivity that allows both productive sectors and citizens to develop wherever they are.”