Starlink Internet is turning from a rural savior into an unreliable luxury
When SpaceX’s residential satellite internet company, Starlink, was first introduced, I had high hopes. Legal high speed internet is not widely available where I live in rural Kansas. For the past 11 years, I’ve had to settle for an OG Verizon data-only plan for hotspot, HughesNet satellite internet, US Mobile home internet, local landline wireless, T-Mobile Home internet, and more. But as of spring 2021, I’ll be relying primarily on Starlink to provide internet to my home.
Don’t get me wrong. Without Starlink, I wouldn’t be able to cut the cord, work from home, or partake in the other modern connected conveniences I now enjoy. At first I averaged 100-150/10-25Mbps for my speeds and rarely disconnected. Coming from 15/3 if I was lucky this was borderline life changing.
However, since I first started using these low-orbit satellites to power my internet, not only did the price go up by $30 a month, but the speed and reliability dropped significantly. I have spoken to others in my area who use Starlink and since January we have had frequent outages and fluctuating speeds between 30-50/2-10Mbps. I am aware that Starlink states that what I am receiving meets the stated expectations. I could deal with it if it was consistent and reliable, and if I didn’t charge $120 a month.
The cost of switching is approaching the breaking point
I recently attended a town hall meeting hosted by the Kansas Broadband Development Office to discuss the state of the Internet in Kansas. It was surprising and not to hear how shocked homeowners were that the poor state of rural broadband was affecting not only households but businesses as well. A relatively large farming family managing both livestock and crops mentioned how, without adequate broadband or mobile connectivity, there are times when they cannot even make a phone call in the field due to lack of connectivity. They also mentioned how they missed important market changes because their internet was not stable at home. This is not just about communication. it’s about these people’s livelihood.
the point this discussion and others that the Kansas Office of Broadband Development will have throughout the state is to better understand how the high-speed Internet situation affects rural areas. Because many places, not just Kansas, don’t have ISPs to service their home with wired or wireless internet. Some can’t even get Starlink because it’s not available in their area or the queue is full.
For many industries like mine, Starlink is supposed to be a savior of sorts for those underserved by terrible internet or no internet at all. In a way, Starlink is largely responsible for allowing me to become a full-time mobile editor. But it was always an expensive service to buy. If you want Starlink internet, assuming it’s available at your address, you’ll need to buy the hardware, which costs $599 and is non-refundable after 30 days, according to it. website. Paying the $599 Starlink cost stung because of the price, but also because I had to do the dish installation and wiring myself. But I didn’t really have a choice, and I had no intention of needing another provider until the service started to deteriorate and the monthly costs went up.
The bigger picture is that a service that was once, and in many cases still is, a savior of sorts for many industries, is now just another overpriced and difficult-to-use ISP.
This degradation didn’t force me completely offline, but there were many times when I couldn’t turn on my video during an online meeting or online documents failed to save. Since I have to rely on Wi-Fi calling in my home due to poor cell service, I can’t even reliably make phone calls. Instead, I use apps like Telegram to contact people, but those alternatives don’t help much when, for example, the pharmacy calls to say the medicine is ready to pick up; it’s not going to call me via telegram.
Starlink is quickly becoming a luxury, and even if someone is willing to put up with frequent outages, there’s a good chance it’s going to be prohibitively expensive. In the latest price hike, Starlink announced that the price has dropped to $90 per month for areas with “excess capacity”, while those with “limited capacity” are now $120 per month. What determines power is not transparent. When I started with Starlink I was paying $90, then last fall it went up to $110 and now it’s $120 a month and I don’t know why.
This made me look for alternatives. I’ve been back to T-Mobile Home Internet for the past two months because I can get T-Mobile for only $50 a month and because the speed and reliability are on par with what I was getting from Starlink. But even getting T-Mobile in my home required extra work and money on my part. If you can believe it, I first had to go into a store and ask for a modem and convince them that I knew my experience might not be good because officially, according to the T-Mobile website, internet is not available at: My home. I also had to buy a $400 external antenna kit to connect directly to the router because I don’t get a good cell signal at my house from any US carrier and I need an antenna boost.
Some things will never change
Despite all these difficulties, I have not yet canceled my Starlink service. One of the reasons is that I don’t know if I can get it again. when i put my address on their site they tell me i’m on a waiting list. I would like to request more information from the Starlink support team since I have the equipment, but I can’t because there is no email address, phone number, chat or other way to send a support message. There was once an option to send a message to the team through the app, but this is currently not an option. I only had to contact the support team twice, and that was to get more questions answered that weren’t covered in any of the FAQs, which they were quick to respond to.
There is hope that reliable and affordable internet can become more widespread. But that may not be the case with Starlink.
But I have to use that option with Starlink because I can’t keep paying for both internet services and I have to pay a difference in monthly fees to offset the cost of the Starlink equipment and the external T-Mobile Home internet antenna. There’s also the upside that having my Starlink gear means I can take it with me on my camping excursions and have a way to communicate with the world if I need to.
Beyond my issues with Starlink, the bigger picture is that a service that was once, and in many cases still is, a savior of sorts for many industries, is now just another overpriced and difficult-to-use ISP. Those I know who use Starlink have been frustrated by the difficulties with the service and the price hikes, leaving many to look at options like T-Mobile Home Internet or other local wireless Internet providers. Unfortunately, for more than a few, even with the more affordable prepaid carriers, there are no other options to even consider. This leaves them with the tough decision to stick with an expensive low-end service to stay connected, or go back to a more analog world.
With the new momentum to expand broadband coverage in my state, and I’ve seen similar efforts in other areas, there is hope that reliable and affordable internet can become more widespread. But that may not be the case with Starlink.