With all of the noise and frantic pace around broadband and infrastructure initiatives, I have found myself thinking that the attention on rural broadband is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it has really gotten the attention of key policymakers to focus on what actual public policies could be implemented to ease deployment – and a few very thoughtful ones have also made it clear that they agree with our position that it will take additional resources into the mix to really help edge out broadband into some of the remote, unserved areas that are frankly, just tough to serve without support. The curse? That folks who have never built or operated broadband networks are coming out of the woodwork with solutions. The newest one to join that list is SpaceX. SpaceX is looking to launch a pair of experimental satellites on Sunday that are designed to beam an ultrafast, lag-free internet connection down to Earth. We’ll see…
This effort has been underway for awhile as part of a plan that CEO Elon Musk has come up with to create an entire fleet of orbiting devices that will cover the earth, providing wireless broadband connectivity – called LEOs – with the intent to eventually have about 12,000 broadband satellites circling the earth with the first ones in the network coming online next year.
I’m not a fan of satellite service, other than as a last alternative for those who are unable to have any other alternative. Weather, obstacles, and latency are all issues that really have been difficult to overcome. Even with this plan, using satellites lower in orbit seems like a leap of faith in terms of the huge number of satellites needed as well a developed, accurate tracking technology that will allow devices on earth to communicate seamlessly. And the kicker might be that they will still need to use radio frequencies – and access those with low-lag capabilities….and then there’s “space junk” concerns of what is playing bumper pool in the heavens above. However, as the FCC moved to give support to SpaceX moving forward, I was pleased to hear Chairman Pai note that “satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach.” The realistic nod to the power of a future-proofed fiber network was encouraging.
More to follow but it is likely that everyone will want to jump into the broadband game – but I hope they do so with their eyes wide open and with an eye to not overbuilding existing networks in low-density markets that are already a challenge to build an economic business case to operate. Sexy today should not mean consumer disappointment and bankruptcy tomorrow.