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Low-orbit satellites key to new Ohio broadband pilot

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Posted at 4:15 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 16:15:12-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Low-orbiting satellites floating less than 600 miles above Earth are key to a new broadband technology that Ohio will test early next year in hopes of eventually offering it more widely.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced the pilot program Wednesday. The Republican said that if the new concept is successful it can help the state get service to remote regions, particularly in Appalachia, where a lack of high-speed internet has stymied economic development, education and health care for decades.

“Doing things the same way we’ve been doing it hasn’t been working. We have to look at new strategies here on this, because it’s not going to solve itself,” he said during a virtual news conference. “We want to put Ohio at the forefront of leaning in on this. When you get months and years ahead of other places, that gives you a strategic advantage.”

The $200,000 pilot project will deliver the experimental Starlink satellite broadband service, developed by SpaceX, to 90 households and 10 small businesses in Allen Township in Union County, a rural area near Marysville in central Ohio. All of the participants are underserved by broadband.

“The options out here are extremely limited, and none of them are good,” said Bob Rich, a pilot participant who’s spent 12 years living in the area.

Rich said over the years he’s had to relocate to rented office space in Marysville during his children’s school breaks to reduce the household internet load or rent cloud computing resources just to do his job.

“I work in the IT field and there’s things I just simply can’t do from home, so I have to rent resources to do them remotely,” he said. “That’s just been a constant background nuisance this whole time, and now with the pandemic it’s even worse, right, because everybody’s home.”

JobsOhio President and CEO J.P. Nauseef said SpaceX, which also designs and builds rockets and spacecraft, tested some of the technology at the NASA facility in Sandusky.

“Because it’s not bound by ground infrastructure limitations, Starlink’s able to deliver high speed internet to locations where access in the past had been unreliable, expensive or not available at all,” he said.

Dana Saucier, a JobsOhio vice president who heads economic development, said test satellites will be positioned 540-560 miles (870-900 kilometers) above Earth, compared to the 25,000-mile (40,230-kilometer) distance of a typical satellite.

Union County is not the neediest of Ohio’s counties by far, but Husted said the state needed a locale for the pilot with ample population density and robust internet demand.