The internet plays a fundamental role in our daily lives. More so, in the current era, framed by the pandemic, which has halted the wheel of progress and made everyone homebound. In such a testy environment, the internet is the only technology that has innovatively carved out ways for people to continue their professions, education, errands, and more social necessities from the comfort and safety of their houses. All Internet Service Providers-
Unfortunately, despite the demand for uniform internet access, network technology isn’t available to everyone in the United States. Quite a large population of consumers remains underserved by internet service providers. Why is that and could Space X’s Starlink be the ultimate solution to global internet coverage? Let’s find out below.
What is the Current Internet Landscape in the US?
The geographical terrain of the United States is divided into urban and rural regions. Urban areas include the buzzing metropolises or the traditional suburbs, while the rural areas encompass the outskirts of cities or remote features. The current broadband landscape in the US shows an uneven distribution of internet services across urban and rural areas. According to the latest Pew Research, only 72% of the rural households testify to having a working internet connection, while the percentage is much more for the urban and suburban areas.
For instance, states like Maryland and New York host an exuberant internet market, while states like New Mexico and Montana suffer from broadband scarcity. Even though megalithic internet service providers like Cox offer special broadband deals and Cox internet plans to cover their rural customers in addition to urban subscribers, it is not enough to close the gap. In an age ruled by a global pandemic, where internet connectivity has become more important than anything, this sparse accessibility creates a real problem for rural and sometimes, urban users alike.
Why No One Has Been Able to Close the Digital Divide?
Several efforts have been made by governments and political organizations over the last decade to bring internet access to every consumer household in America, but to no avail. Such as:
- Higher Orbit Satellite – Satellite internet has been in existence for over half a century now. Despite this, it hasn’t made much of an impact. Though satellite internet is virtually available to everyone in the US, its slow speeds and weather interferences haven’t settled too well with rural consumers. That’s because satellites are launched in a higher orbit, which hampers an effective signal transmission, creating latency and other connectivity issues for internet users.
- Cellular Inefficiency – Mobile broadband has promised wider connectivity, essentially wireless, across both urban and rural landscapes. Yet, this promise has remained a dream, only. Since cellular internet technology requires wired backhaul infrastructure support, no provider has been able to deploy it in the outskirts to any significant effect.
- Municipal Projects – Municipalities have proposed installing and maintaining their own broadband lines to serve each and every single user in their community. However, this community broadband approach has faced backlash from 22 states. Some have even banned such operations outright.
How the Current Status Quo Makes Things Worse for Consumers?
It is important for an average consumer to break the illusion and take a sneak peek behind the curtains to see how broadband distribution is controlled by internet service providers. For years on end, private companies have taken ownership of internet infrastructure all over the US. This has severely diluted the market competition and created monopolies everywhere.
Why is that bad for consumers? Well, in a perfectly competitive market that is laced with options, each provider tries to one-up the other by offering higher download speeds and lower pricing to entire the consumers and make them its customers, eventually. This works out in favor of consumers because they get a healthy choice, quality broadband service, and more opportunities for saving. Sadly, this is not the case with the internet market in America, which is ruled by a centuries-backed status quo.
As per the broadband industry status quo, private ISPs own infrastructure and coexist in relative harmony with other providers, sticking to their lanes and usurping any possibility of a local broadband competition that could relieve customers. The customers in a locality, encountering one to two ISP options only, are forced to make a choice, live by the rules of the ISP, and bear the ordeal of an ISP monopoly, which finds no incentives in improving internet speeds or lowering their pricing.
This is how things are. Will they always stay the same? The introduction of Starlink bids otherwise.
What is Starlink & What could be its Possible Impact?
Starlink is an upcoming broadband venture by Elon Musk’s Space X. It is still in the beta testing phase and is expected to improve on the current satellite internet technology by a large margin to extend internet coverage uniformly across America. Instead of relying on large geostationary satellites located at a great distance from one another, Starlink plans on transmitting internet signals through a vast network of low orbit satellites, preferably thousands in number, and positioned much closer to each other by Space X’s reusable rockets. The low orbit has the massive potential to boost internet speeds and the huge multitude of satellites can erase gaps in the internet provision map.
Starlink’s commercial entry may shake the current landscape and status quo of the broadband industry in two ways:
- Affect on Pricing – Since Starlink is satellite internet and doesn’t require wired infrastructure, it could potentially break the cable ownership monopoly that local ISPs have always indulged in. Its wireless internet plans, available to the regions with low market competition, could rattle the ISPs into lowering their own costs in order to retain their customers and to prevent them from switching over to Starlink’s satellite. This would increase market competition and decrease market pricing in the favor of hitherto oppressed consumers.
- Affect on Speeds – Starlink internet, with its rumored speeds of up to 150 Mbps, would pose as a viable option for all consumers and as a viable threat for all internet service providers who’ve had no reason ever before to improve the situation of their speeds. Starlink would give the much-needed push to ISPs to strive for keeping their advantage intact and to boost their speeds by finally upgrading their network technology. Again, this would increase market competition and increase market speeds in the favor of hitherto oppressed consumers.
The Final Verdict
Starlink definitely shows the potential to improve the broadband situation in America and to close the digital divide even further. But, will it replace all internet service providers, is a major generalization and doesn’t seem likely to happen. We guess time will tell.