Many homes in rural areas of Coconino County lack access to the Internet, but that's changed for forty-five households in Tuba City, thanks to a new partnership with SpaceX. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.
The pilot program is beta-testing the Starlink satellite constellation developed by SpaceX. The satellites were first launched into low-Earth orbit two years ago. Coconino County supervisor Lena Fowler says the pandemic highlighted a desperate need for Internet in rural areas of Arizona.
"It’s changed their lives completely," she says of the pilot program. "They’re able to actually do work from home now, go to school from home, teach from home."
County officials prioritized students, educators, law enforcement, and health care workers to participate in the program. The families also include citizens of the Navajo, Hopi and San Juan Southern Paiute nations. None of the homes had Internet before.
Matt Fowler, the county’s chief information officer, says, "They’re spread out in so many different areas, that there is no other opportunities. You can’t push microwave into some of these areas, you can’t run fiber or copper or any infrastructure, so really this is the only option."
The county is paying for the first year of Internet service for the forty-five households, including the $500 startup costs. After that, residents have the option of continuing service by paying the $99 monthly fee.