SpaceX Gains Regulatory Approval to Offer Satellite Internet in Canada

Canadian regulators have approved SpaceX’s application to offer Internet service in Canada. The Innovation, Science and Economic Development department tweeted the announcement on November 6.

SpaceX has already opened the public beta for its constellation of Starlink Internet satellites in some parts of the United States. Beta testers have reported speeds of over 100 Mbps, which is better than the service that is available in some sparsely populated rural areas.

The company has also granted early access to emergency services in Washington State and the Native American Hoh Tribe, and has partnered with a school district in Texas to bring Starlink to low-income students who don’t have reliable access to the Internet.

Despite the new approval, users might not be able to sign up for the beta quite yet. SpaceX is still waiting for approval to install its ground stations within Canada. Some Canadian residents might be able to access Starlink if they are within range of stations in the United States, but that would require them to be in the far south of Canada.

Who in Canada Might Use Starlink?

As one might expect, most Canadians live in the southern provinces, with combined figures for Ontario and Quebec historically accounting for about 60% of the population. Estimates show that the provinces of Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories each had less than 50,000 people in the third quarter of 2020.

Traditional Internet service providers might have taken one look at the low populations of these provinces and decided that they weren’t worth the investment. Even if Internet service does exist, it is likely to be slow and expensive. Experts have referred to the lack of reliable Internet service in some regions as a “digital divide” that holds back disadvantaged populations who can’t access online educational and employment opportunities. Some less advantaged demographic groups like the Canadian First Nations might especially benefit from improved access to the Internet. This opens the door to a possible opportunity for satellite Internet services like Starlink.

This assumes that SpaceX can make it affordable enough to be attractive to the people living in the northern provinces. The high up-front cost of accessing Starlink’s “Better than Nothing Beta” is likely to be a turnoff for people who don’t have $600 to plunk down for equipment and the first month of access.

On the flip side Elon Musk may soon face some competition from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, a longtime rival who also owns the rocket company Blue Origin. Amazon plans to launch its own satellite Internet service called “Project Kuiper,” which employs former SpaceX executives who once worked on Starlink. If successful, competitors like Project Kuiper could force SpaceX to bring prices down.

Until that happens, adoption of Starlink’s Internet service might be slow in regions with low average household income despite SpaceX’s insistence that satellite Internet can help less advantaged populations.

Even so, Canada’s regulatory approval will be seen as a step in the right direction for Canadians who have occasionally expressed impatience with how slow the government bureaucracy has been in granting it.