Not very long ago, SpaceX received approval to add Starlink’s Internet service to large vehicles like RVs and buses. It has a couple of deals to do the same for a couple of airlines and a charter jet service. You can get Starlink for your boat, though it’s expensive. Now SpaceX filed a regulatory application to add Starlink’s Internet service to school buses with the FCC.
It’s a good idea in theory. Students can work on online homework that they forgot to do the night before or couldn’t do because they don’t have Internet access at home during their morning bus ride. Starlink’s application calls the proposed service suitable for “areas underserved or entirely unserved by terrestrial alternatives.”
SpaceX said in its filing, “Connecting school buses will afford students the ability to optimize their commute time for necessary educational internet use.”
SpaceX says that it is already piloting the idea of adding satellite Internet service for school bus routes that take more than an hour. It requested that school buses be added to the Eligible Services List.
Some observers did note that a Starlink terminal would have to be fairly rugged to survive service on a school bus. Starlink terminals would be lucky if the worst that happens is frequent trips down rough county roads out in farm areas.
Just don’t count on your kid doing online homework on the bus tomorrow. Regulatory red tape can slow things down. CEO Elon Musk occasionally expressed frustration over matters like German authorities and environmental groups slowing down the opening of Tesla’s Gigafactory Berlin with regulatory proceedings and legal challenges. The FAA repeatedly delayed Starship’s orbital test launch, which could have happened during Summer 2021 but now will likely happen as early as October 2022.
The FCC also rejected a $900 million grant to provide Starlink service for rural areas, saying that the service is still under development and has underperformed. SpaceX disputes the FCC’s claims and still has the option of appealing to the FCC’s commissioners. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr called the rejection an improper decision that was made by a lower-level employee at one of the FCC’s Bureaus.
SpaceX’s aggressiveness with Starlink does seem to aggravate competitors. SpaceX can launch new Starlink satellites as often as a couple of times a month on its reusable Falcon 9 boosters – the most frequent of any satellite Internet provider. OneWeb, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, and ViaSat all seem to resent Starlink if one goes by the number of regulatory challenges to various applications for new things like Starlink’s Version 2 satellites.
Starlink currently has more than 2,000 satellites in orbit out of a planned constellation of at least 12,000 satellites. Its Version 2 satellites will improve performance and potentially even add mobile data service, something that it already has a deal with T-Mobile for. It can provide service for all seven continents, including Antarctica. From a technical standpoint, providing service for long school bus routes in rural areas won’t be any more of a challenge than providing service for an RV or boat in motion. The hard part is more likely to be gaining regulatory approval.