SpaceX is in talks with the UK government to join the $6.9 billion “Project Gigabit”, which aims to improve access to the Internet in rural areas. SpaceX has also signed a deal with British telecom company Arqiva to provide ground stations and infrastructure that can connect its Starlink satellites with the telecom’s fiber network.
Neither Arqiva nor SpaceX have issued a statement on the deal despite requests for comment from news outlets.
SpaceX officials met with UK Minister for Digital Infrastructure Matt Warman to discuss using Starlink to provide Internet service for hard-to-reach communities. The first phase of Project Gigabit has already been launched. Its goal is to provide faster Internet service for more than one million homes and businesses in areas where Internet-related infrastructure has been lacking.
SpaceX is, of course, no stranger to working with government organizations. In December, it signed a deal with the United States’ Federal Communications Commission to develop Internet access for sparsely populated or low-income regions. This came over the objections of established Internet service providers who say that Starlink is still unproven despite the so-far-successful “Better than Nothing Beta,” which has demonstrated an ability to function well even in harsh winter conditions. Both speed and coverage are expected to improve with the frequent launches of Starlink satellites in SpaceX’s aggressive push to complete a planned constellation of up to 42,000 satellites — a push that now includes the planned manufacturing facility for satellites to be built in Austin.
UK residents who have signed up for Starlink were also complimentary of its ability to perform as well as, if not better than, competitors that operate in their area. Rural Devon resident Philip Hall, who has been using it since December, told Business Insider that the 150 Mbps speed has been “absolutely transformational.”
Not that Starlink hasn’t faced regulatory challenges from competitors. One rival Internet service provider called ViaSat has filed a regulatory challenge over the possible environmental impact of Starlink satellites, for instance. Elon Musk was, of course, characteristically sharp-tongued over a challenge that he viewed as an attempt to avoid competition. (SpaceX has since acknowledged the impact that Starlink satellites can have on ground-based observations taken by astronomers and added shades to reduce the satellites’ twinkling.)
This may be fair, considering that some populations have suffered from the “Digital Divide” that denies them the opportunities that come with Internet access even in developed countries. Washington State’s Hoh Tribe has been complimentary of SpaceX’s efforts to grant them early access to Starlink, which comes with opportunities to access virtual education, telehealth services, and possible new career opportunities. Legal wrangling between Internet service providers can slow down chances to bring high-speed Internet access to these underserved populations.
One possible rival for SpaceX’s courting of the UK’s Project Gigabit is the satellite Internet company OneWeb, which the UK government currently owns a stake in after buying it out of bankruptcy. Reports indicate that the satellites developed and launched by SpaceX and OneWeb are seen as more viable than other options that have been considered, like balloons and autonomous aircraft.