‘We have a winner here’: Starlink program helps rural Manitobans with poor internet

Many rural Manitobans still struggle with poor internet service, which advocates say the government should do more of. But a Manitoba warden says she found a solution for her constituents that might work for others.

The divide between urban and rural internet services has been widening for years, but recent events such as the Rogers outage have brought the issue back to the fore.

“The two things, between our COVID experience and the Rogers outage, really show that the nature of the internet and the way it is involved in our daily lives has fundamentally changed,” said Joel Templeman, chief internet officer. Society, Manitoba Chapter. . “It really grew as entertainment, as an extra thing to complement our lives, and now it’s really tied into everything we do and everywhere we go.”

Templeman says internet coverage and connection speeds in rural Manitoba aren’t even close to those in cities like Winnipeg. “The stats just show they’re significantly lower, and that’s not changing,” he said.

Connectivity is so poor in the RM of Saint-Laurent that Warden Cheryl Smith noticed the federal government offered some money last spring to help fix the problem. “When this universal broadband fund came about, we thought we were trying to do something very creative and unique where people would get cutting-edge internet service,” Smith said.

She applied for and received more than $1 million in federal government funding to pay for Starlink, a US-based internet service provider owned by Elon Musk.

Smith says she made the decision after several home-based businesses in the area tried the service. “They were just telling us, this is the best thing ever, we’re really, really happy about it,” she said.

Starlink offers a high-speed Internet signal transmitted to your home via satellites in low Earth orbit. Smith says the service is excellent.

“You can’t compare it to anything else out there, it’s incredibly reliable, it’s fast, it’s fast,” she said, noting that her internet connection from Starlink is often better than people in the city in Zoom meetings. “It’s never been a problem again, which is fantastic.”

To participate in the rebate program, MR residents must order Starlink equipment themselves from the company’s website. They can then claim reimbursement for equipment only – up to $900 for a satellite dish and receiver.

Smith says uptake of the program has been very good, with more than 100 people requesting reimbursement so far. She notes that there is a $100 application fee and that residents must pay the Starlink monthly bill themselves, which is more expensive than other services. But, the program works.

“I think we have a winner here, and hopefully we can reimburse more people,” Smith said.

Templeman agrees that Starlink technology is impressive, but says a commercial venture won’t offer a permanent solution to this problem.

“The technology itself is better, but what it says is that we’ve neglected to make all the other investments in fiber optics and other long-term terrestrial solutions,” Templeman said.

He also says it is not good for economic development.

“The money that people pay in these rural areas not only leaves the community but also leaves the country, doesn’t it? It’s an American company, and there are others…there there’s no local support for these things.”

Templeman says it is the government’s responsibility to build the infrastructure necessary to provide all Manitobans with good Internet service and that the Internet Society is fighting for these changes.

In the meantime, residents of the RM of Saint-Laurent can still apply for the program until November 11, 2022. Smith says shipping may take some time, so anyone interested should order as soon as possible.

“If they really want to get Starlink, they better order it now!”

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