The FCC Just Gave SpaceX the Go-Ahead to Build a Space Internet

Illustration for article titled The FCC Just Gave SpaceX the Go-Ahead to Build a Space Internet
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It looks like we may have a winner in America’s great internet space race. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just authorized SpaceX to launch its broadband satellite service, Starlink. That means Americans could be accessing the internet from space as early as 2019. We’ll literally just be pointing our phones at the sky and going online.

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Just kidding, you don’t actually have to point your phone at the sky to enjoy space internet. The Starlink service will work a lot like wi-fi, except instead of needing to find a hot spot, entire sections of the country could get internet access. The proposed system will include 4,425 low-orbit satellites that will beam connectivity with frequencies in the Ka and Ku bands. It actually works exactly like the wireless service on many airplanes, except SpaceX promises fiber-fast speeds. The system is expected to go online next year, after SpaceX gets at least 800 satellites in orbit.

“We appreciate the FCC’s thorough review and approval of SpaceX’s constellation license,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX. “Although we still have much to do with this complex undertaking, this is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected.”

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Even though everybody loves fast wi-fi, Shotwell really highlights what’s most exciting about this new space internet. It’s going to make connectivity possible in places that might not even get dialup service. According to the FCC, some 34.5 million Americans don’t have access to fixed and mobile broadband where they live. This includes rural areas as well as parts of cities that have been neglected by the Comcasts and Charters of the world. Starlink also stands to increase competition in the historically monopoly-driven internet business. After all, the majority of Americans only have one choice for an internet provider. The new SpaceX system could fix this.

Of course, all of this is somewhat speculative. We know that space internet is a thing that can work. It is also, however, a very futuristic undertaking that’s practically without precedent. Will Starlink be as fast as SpaceX says it will be? Will it reach all the people who need it? We’ll have to wait until Elon Musk and friends fire a few more rockets into the heavens to find out.

[CNBC]

Senior editor at Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

We may very well be witnessing one of those pivotal moments in human history that changes everything, like the printing press, the telegraph and telephone, television and the internet. A global network that is beyond the control of local authorities will usher in a new paradigm of human interaction. Assuming that Skynet Starlink is an honest broker and implements an open space internet, for the first time in history everyone everywhere will be able to see how everyone else lives, to communicate with them, and to bring about change where they live.

We’ve been here before. In the ‘40s through the ‘70s most nation states employed shortwave radio to spread their message. America had Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and the USSR had Radio Moscow. These were very powerful stations that could be picked up anywhere on an inexpensive radio.

Shortwave receivers were banned in the USSR; you could get sent to the gulag for having one. Russia also jammed western broadcasts, but this didn’t stop some people; at one point the US was air-dropping small transistor sets by parachute behind the iron curtain so people could listen to VOA and RFE. It’s entire feasible that Starlink smartphones could be similarly provided to the third world and places like North Korea.

All of which is to say nothing of being able to ditch Verizon and AT&T.

So pay attention kids; this could easily be the Next Big Thing™

Note the government ID numbers on the white wrapper. This was the model, a GE P-925, they dropped into the USSR.