Updated: Apr 1
A new Internet service is now available in Linn County and some people are singing its praises. Starlink, an Internet satellite venture owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX Corp., has been collecting deposits from Linn County residents for the past several months while the service was getting started.
Linn County Commission Chair Jim Johnson has talked about Starlink in the commission meeting the last two weeks saying that his wife loves it. Johnson suggested that the Linn County Commission look into helping people who could not receive service otherwise through broadband or tower-to-tower to purchase the startup package of approximately $600.
Chris Martin, the county's Internet technology director, has also said that Starlink is an improvement over other satellite Internet providers by using satellites that orbit lower to the earth, which helps create stronger connections and faster service.
David Fisher, a Centerville landowner, said he had recently set up the Starlink service and was very happy with the download speeds and low latency. Latency describes the amount of delay on a network or Internet connection. Low latency means that there are no or almost no delays.
Fisher says that Starlink is a great opportunity for people who want to work at home and live the rural lifestyle.
That is particularly true on the west side of Linn County, which is not served by fiber-optic cable systems installed by Peoples Telecommunication LLC or Craw-Kan Telephone Cooperative.
Some residents are reporting that a newly installed Verizon cell phone tower on the west side of the county has helped speed up Internet connections for those who use hotspots or their phones to link to the Internet.
However, cell phone towers and towers built by Internet provider KwiKom Communications of Iola, Kan., still have obstacles of trees and hills to work around to provide service for the more sparsely populated area on the county’s west side.
And while Peoples Telecommunication has been interested in expanding its fiber-optic cable to the Parker area and more, the cost of laying that cable through the rocky ground is costly.
Jennifer Johnson-Leach, the general manager of Peoples, has said the cost to bury fiber-optic cable 24 inches deep in the eastern portion of the county runs about $24,000 per mile. However, in running cable to a new tower east of Parker, cutting through rock significantly increased that cost.
So being near a KwiKom tower or purchasing a satellite system may be the best options.
According to Reviews.org, Starlink download speeds reach between 50 to 150 mbps.
Fisher said that in setting up the rectangle antenna, which is relatively small 19 inches by 12 inches, that a clear view of the sky was needed for Starlink to work. If a person is in a heavily wooded area, the location of the antenna needs to be on top of a building or long pole.
Concerns about satellite service often center around data caps and service. Starlink’s site says “at this time there are no data caps.”
Other satellite companies serving eastern Kansas implement data caps or add surcharges if the use goes beyond the monthly limit of gigabytes. Since the monthly rate of Starlink is already $99, added charges for data might get costly or your service might be blocked or significantly slowed down.
In comparison, KwiKom's basic wireless plan with no data cap is $65 per month. Customers can purchase plans with higher download speeds up to $105 per month with 40 mbps speeds.
In some areas, there are already reports that as more users subscribe to the Starlink service and begin using more of the system’s bandwidth, it can lead to slower service.
A report by Speedtest by Ookla, a website that speed tests Internet providers, shows that Starlink’s download speeds decreased to an average of 87 megabytes per second in the third quarter of 2021, down from a high of 97 Mbps three months earlier.
However, the report goes on to say that Starlink remained faster than other satellite-based systems. It was slower than “fixed” broadband service based on a fiber-optic system.
Service might be another problem. It is very difficult to find a telephone number or reach a person to talk to at Starlink. In fact, to even find out the cost, you have to enter your address and go through the initial motions of setting up service.
In a telephone interview with KwiKom Operations Manager Eric Vogel, he said that KwiKom’s main advantage for the customer over Starlink was that you received local support and local field technicians.
Vogel said that most companies start out with good service but as companies add more customers and scale up, the service becomes worse. The advantage of KwiKom is that they cover a smaller area and are committed to good service, he said.
Data plans with Starlink, at about $100 per month, are also more expensive than KwiKom's plan. However, if no KwiKom tower is in the immediate area, the price becomes less of a factor.
Weather issues affect satellite more than broadband or even tower-to-tower systems.
While it is recommended that Starlink be installed in a location that avoids snow build-up, it does have the ability to melt snow, according to the Starlink support page. In extreme heat or cold, Starlink may experience slightly reduced performance.
Starlink does have a low affinity to water and in extreme cases heavy rain or wind may affect the connection, potentially leading to slower speeds or a rare outage, according to its website
Starlink has a series of satellites that stay in a fixed location and, as the earth turns, the signal to each tower will move from one satellite to the next. The immensity of this many satellites in the sky has astronomers concerned.
On the Starlink website, the company says that it leads the industry innovation to reduce satellite brightness, minimize the impact on astronomy, and protect the natural night sky for stargazers to enjoy.
Starlink or other satellite services may be the answer for people that cannot get Internet any other way. However, for people who dislike not having a person to talk to or to help with installation, Starlink may be a problem. And the cost of set up and also the monthly rate may be prohibitive to many potential customers.
Another issue is that when a northwest Linn County address is put on the application to apply, the form says, “Order now to reserve your Starlink. Starlink is currently at capacity in your area, so your order may not be fulfilled until 2023 or later. You will receive a notification once your Starlink is ready to ship.”