SpaceX looking to expand Starlink to school buses

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SpaceX is looking to provide students in the U.S. with access to Starlink internet service on school buses, according to a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday.

In collaboration with school districts, SpaceX is piloting projects in rural areas of the country to support students on bus routes that are more than 60 minutes each way and "predominantly inaccessible to other mobile broadband services."

"The overwhelming majority of the participating students will not have access to high-speed broadband at home," the filing states. "Connecting school buses will afford students the ability to optimize their commute time for necessary educational internet use, as well as time spent with family and friends or recreational activities."

According to the FCC, nearly 17 million school children lack internet access at home. 

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In May, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed using funding from the Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support Mechanism, or E-Rate program, to equip school buses with Wi-Fi. The proposal would clarify that the use of Wi-Fi or similar access point technologies on school buses serves an educational purpose and that the provision of such service is eligible for E-Rate funding.

In collaboration with school districts, SpaceX is piloting projects in rural areas of the country to support students on bus routes that are more than 60 minutes each way and “predominantly inaccessible to other mobile broadband services.” (iStock) (iStock)

"Providing funding to access these services will benefit students in the United States at home and en route – especially in those areas underserved or entirely unserved by terrestrial alternatives," the aerospace giant's letter said. "SpaceX therefore urges the Commission to adopt the Chairwoman’s draft Declaratory Ruling and swiftly make the necessary changes to the Eligible Services List to include services and equipment like SpaceX’s mobile antennas that can immediately provide Wi-Fi on school buses."

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Currently, funding for Wi-Fi on school buses is covered under the agency's $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund program, a temporary program that Congress mandated as part of COVID-19 relief measures. As of May, more than $35 million in funding through that program had been allocated for the purchase of Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband services for school buses, according to Rosenworcel.

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The letter comes after SpaceX received approval from the FCC in July to use Starlink on vehicles in motion, including RVs, trucks, boats and planes.

Since then, SpaceX has announced Starlink connectivity partnerships with T-Mobile, Royal Caribbean, Hawaiian Airlines and semi-private carrier JSX. Founder Elon Musk also recently said the company has had "some promising conversations" with Apple about Starlink connectivity.

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Starlink service is currently available on all seven continents, including Antarctica, for $110 per month with a one-time hardware cost of $599 for standard satellite dishes and $2,500 for "high performance" satellite dishes. The company has also rolled out a $500 per month premium tier for businesses, a $135 per month tier for RVs and a $5,000 per month tier for boats. 

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Starlink Maritime costs $5,000 per month with a one-time hardware cost of $10,000 for two ruggedized, high performance terminals. (SpaceX)

The company has deployed more than 3,000 Starlink satellites to date and currently has a base of over 400,000 Starlink subscribers worldwide. 

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