Slow internet speeds and poor coverage are a major problem in many rural areas. It’s a competitive disadvantage for farmers, ranchers and businesses who generally have no choice but to settle for slower, more expensive internet than people living in urban areas.
Traditional internet service providers, unless they’re regulated or funded by government, see little incentive in investing in the infrastructure to provide good internet to sparsely-populated areas.
These slow internet speeds make it difficult for many of the advancements in ag tech to live up to their promised potential. It’s hard to imagine implementing “big data” platforms when you can’t even watch a YouTube video here on RealAg.
That’s why the SpaceX launch planned for Wednesday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California could be significant for anyone who struggles with rural internet. (Update: SpaceX has delayed the launch to Thursday due to “strong upper level winds.”)
Elon Musk’s space company intends to piggyback two test satellites — Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b — on its Falcon Heavy rocket (pictured above). These two satellites are prototypes in SpaceX’s plan to make high-speed internet accessible anywhere around the globe — part of a race to cover the world with broadband from space.
Ultimately, SpaceX has plans to create what it’s calling the “Starlink” constellation, using thousands of small satellites to deliver internet at speeds similar to the fastest ground-based internet connections.
U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai last week suggested the FCC should approve an application from SpaceX to provide internet from space.
“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,” said Pai, in a statement, noting “it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.”
SpaceX isn’t the only company planning to make fast internet accessible from space. OneWeb, a startup that has attracted some big-name investors such as Airbus, Virgin Group and Coca-Cola, already has FCC approval to send internet satellites into space and plans to begin launching in spring. Telesat, a private company headquartered in Ottawa and part-owned by the Canada Public Sector Pension Investment Board, launched a test satellite last month — part of a plan to deploy around 120 internet satellites by the end of 2021.
It’s exciting for rural internet users because not only could this space race unlock faster communication speeds, but it could also introduce new price competition for existing internet providers.
While these are billion dollar business dreams for SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat and others, reliable high speed internet would also be a dream-come-true worth billions of dollars to agriculture and the rural economy.
Watch the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, slated for 6:17 a.m. Pacific time on Thursday (*provided your internet is fast enough):