Elon Musk’s space internet gives Native American tribe access to high-speed broadband for first time
A remote Native American tribe is among the first users of Elon Musk’s Starlink space internet project after it connected to SpaceX’s constellation of satellites.
The Hoh Tribe in Washington State said Starlink’s high-speed broadband enabled remote learning and telehealth appointments during the coronavirus pandemic for the first time.
“We’re very remote. The last eight years I felt like we’ve been paddling up river with a spoon and almost getting nowhere with getting internet to the reservation,” said Melvinjohn Ashue, vice chairman of the Hoh Tribe.
“It seemed like out of nowhere, SpaceX came up and just catapulted us into the 21st century.”
There are currently around 800 Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit, offering internet connectivity to northern areas of the US and Canada. SpaceX eventually plans to launch tens of thousands more satellites to provide “near global coverage of the populated world by 2021”.
The Hoh Tribe were introduced to Starlink through the Washington State Department of Commerce, which sits within the current reach of the Starlink network.
It is one of several early testers of Starlink , with emergency responders in Washington State also recently using the network to set up a WiFi hotspot for residents of Malden after 80 per cent of the town was destroyed by wildfires.
The Hoh Tribe revealed that internet speeds prior to Starlink ranged from between 0.3 and 0.7 megabits per second (Mbps) – a long way off the 100Mbps advertised by SpaceX.
What a difference high-speed internet can make! Our children can participate in remote learning, residents can access #healthcare. We felt like we’d been paddling up-river with a spoon on this. @SpaceX Starlink made it happen overnight. Thanks @WAStateCommerce for introduction.
— Hoh Tribe (@TribeHoh) October 7, 2020
Responding to a tweet from the
“Hey you. Let me teach you something about braids.” Tiktok user @the_land sits facing the camera, brushing his hair and calmly plaiting three strands on either side of his head. He speaks softly and confidently, while words flash on the screen highlighting parts of his speech. “When braiding our hair, we’re supposed to have good thoughts, because we’re connecting with our body, mind, and spirit. That’s what the three strands are for.”
The video, tagged with #nativetiktok and #indigenous, has been shared more than 28,000 times. It’s one of the most popular videos that comes up when you search those hashtags on Tiktok, and @the_land is one of the app’s most prominent Native American creators.
But if everyone had universal internet – and not just access to pricy data plans from their phones, or patchy connections that take forever to load, but clear, high-speed, robust internet access – we would see these TikToks (and Instagram influencers, and YouTube personalities) multiply. As it stands, American Indian reservations and tribal lands have some of the worst internet connectivity in the country. Earlier this year, some tribes weren’t even able to apply for free FCC broadband licences because, ironically, they didn’t have good internet connections, so they couldn’t submit all the application materials online.
And those tribes aren’t just tiny, or rural and isolated. The White Mountain Apache Reservation spans about 2,600 square miles, just a few hours from Phoenix. More than 16,000 people are members, with the majority living on the reservation. About half of those people don’t have reliable internet access, estimates David Fish, the WMAT IT director.
“If you’re willing to pay enough, you can get decent speeds. We have pretty good internet service for the tribal offices, but we pay almost $3,000 a month for it,” Fish said. Residents