HomeConnectivity & TechStarlink’s ability to close digital divide remains TBD

Starlink’s ability to close digital divide remains TBD

Elon Musk’s satellite broadband service Starlink, whose goal is to deploy world-class Internet at high speeds throughout the United States is making inroads. This includes the rural areas that have been left behind when it comes to connectivity over the years. It’s still anyone’s guess if Starlink will reach such heights as it’s still in the beta phase, but Ookla recently used data from Speedtest Intelligence to examine the service’s first quarter performance in the U.S. and Canada to see if it’s living up to the expectations.

Initial testing showed that Starlink speeds were sometimes a big improvement, but other times not such much, according to Ookla. Starlink’s median download speeds in the U.S. during the first quarter ranged from 40.36 Mbps in Columbia County, OR to 93.09 Mbps in Shasta County, CA. The figures represented all facets—a big improvement over other fixed broadband providers (it was 545.6% faster in Tehama, CA) to underwhelming (67.9% slower in Clay County, MO).

Starlink’s range is closer in Canada

Speedtest Intelligence’s data showed less of disparity in download speeds throughout Canada than it did in the U.S. The low was 53.61 Mbps in Ontario, while the high was 80.57 Mbps in Saskatchewan.

“Percentage difference when compared to all other fixed broadband providers also showed a narrower range,” Ookla Head of Content Isla McKetta wrote. “In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Starlink customers reported median download speeds 59.6% and 38.5% faster than those for all other fixed broadband providers combined. In Québec, median download speeds were nearly equal, with Starlink performing only 3.4% slower. In B.C., Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick, on the other hand, Starlink’s median download speeds were 20.9%, 24.2%, 29.5% and 40.7% slower than other fixed broadband providers, respectively.”

Starlink shows higher latency increase in the U.S. than in Canada 

Latency, the amount of time it takes data to get from one source to another, it critical for efficient Internet use. Starlink will look to use low-Earth orbit satellites with laser links to decrease latency in rural areas, Ookla reports. Speedtest’s data shows that Starlink’s latency is often lot higher than its counterparts. It was higher than all but one U.S. county that was surveyed during the first quarter of this year. Mariposa, CA was the exception—Starlink’s latency was 17.4% lower than the other providers combined.

“Median latency values on Starlink were observed from 31 milliseconds (ms) (Kittitas County, Washington) all the way up to 88 ms (Otsego County, Michigan),” McKetta wrote. “For comparison, median latency values for all other providers combined ranged from 8 ms (Fairfax County, Virginia) to 47 ms (Daviess County, Kentucky).”

Meanwhile in Canada, Starlink’s latency was higher in every province that was surveyed. Median latency values ranged from 34 milliseconds in British Columbia to 61 milliseconds in Saskatchewan. Starlink’s latency was 209.1% to 369.2% higher than that of all other providers combined.

Starlink qualifies for FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund

As far as good news goes for Starlink, it met the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) minimum tier for its Rural Development Opportunity Fund. Providers had to reach 25 Mbps download, three Mbps upload and 100 milliseconds for latency to be eligible. Almost 87% of Starlink users in the U.S. met the threshold, compared to 83.2% of those on other fixed broadband providers. The FCC’s requirements didn’t apply to Canada, but 85.6% of Starlink users north of the border met the threshold compared to 77.8% of other providers.

“Given this data, it’s safe to say Starlink could be a cost-effective solution that dramatically improves rural broadband access without having to lay thousands of miles of fiber,” McKetta wrote. “Musk’s Starlink experiment is certainly fascinating and we applaud any effort to get better service for rural residents. That said it’s clearly early days for Starlink. We’ll be watching to see how performance improves as more satellites are launched and as more users join the service. If you’re on Starlink, take a Speedtest to share how your connection is performing.”

Joe Dyton can be reached at joed@fifthgenmedia.com.

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