After the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) announced a program to cover the costs for Starlink satellite internet service in August, many First Nations communities in Ontario have taken up their first chance to obtain high-speed internet service.
Starlink, a division of billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, uses satellites in near-earth orbit to offer lower-latency service.
In 2020, Pikangikum First Nation became the first Indigenous community to connect to Starlink, with a preliminary order of 60 dishes for homes and businesses, and a stated order for another 40 by the end of the year.
In the same year, SpaceX offered to launch 58 satellites at a higher orbital plane that would allow them to offer service in Alaska and Canada’s High Arctic. According to their website, that service will begin in 2023.
After NAN announced a program to reimburse the cost of the Starlink hardware and one year of service for families with children in school, and up to 90% for those with children out of school, Moose Factory has seen an uptake on the service in the community.
Lindy Linklater, Interim Director of Administration and Communications for Moose Factory, said that about 100 homes and several businesses in the community have taken advantage of the service.
Before Starlink, two other companies provided internet service. But it wasn’t great, said Linklater.
“The feedback on Starlink has been very positive, people are very satisfied with what they’ve delivered,” he said. Other communities, including Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Attawapiskat, also use the service.
Linklater installed the service at his own home. “When it first came out, it got really high speeds, like 300 or 400-megabit downloads. Since more people have gotten it, it’s dropped to 200, but it’s still very fast,” he said, pointing out that there are no download caps. At 200-megabit speeds, a high-definition film can be downloaded in under five minutes.
He said the community was allocated 60 Starlink units with the NAN program, but they’ve only assigned about 70% of those units so far. The remaining ones are to go to homes, but some have been given to cultural camps that work with youth and some for educational purposes.
Heather Moore, Executive Director at the Moose Cree Education Authority, said they were allocated five Starlink satellite dishes, with a backlog of 10 others for staff and teachers.
“During the pandemic when students were schooling at home, and parents working from home, the bandwidth of service providers was not great enough to accommodate say four students and two parents. There was lag, and people would get booted off,” she said.
Then they heard about the NAN project to provide Starlink to schools. “Plus, it would be provided to teachers so they’d have good connectivity and there would be no interference with classes when remote learning,” she said.
In addition to the band-run school, Starlink devices were also provided to the provincially run school and the private Christian academy on Moose Factory Island.
Moore credits the NAN subsidy with enabling many families to connect, since not many could have afforded it otherwise. Starlink’s website shows the hardware is available for $759, with a monthly fee of $140. Service maps on the website show that the service is available throughout Eeyou Istchee, except for Whapmagoostui, where service is indicated to be available in 2023.
by Ben Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter