Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Verge’s Review of Starlink

Nilay Patel, the Verge:

Starlink is a truly remarkable feat of engineering, and the sheer force of will required to make it work as a simple consumer product shines through. It is, however, in everyone’s best interest to consider the trade-offs of having done all this work and putting all these satellites in orbit simply to get internet access. Astronomers and scientists are very mad about this. Starlink should talk to them more.

Second, all the people dreaming of Starlink upsetting cable monopolies and reinventing broadband need to seriously reset their expectations. At best, Starlink currently offers reasonably fast access with inconsistent connectivity, huge latency swings, and a significant uptick in time spent considering whether you can just get out the chainsaw and solve the tree problem yourself.

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And lastly, if you are a telecom executive or regulator in the United States, you have no choice but to see Starlink, its execution, and the unrestrained excitement and hype around it as a direct indictment of your rhetoric and efforts to properly connect this country to the internet over the past two decades. Dishy McDishface is a sign that reads YOU FUCKED UP AND EVERYONE HATES YOU. Read the sign. This is your fault.

My hope is that Starlink reflects a problem that can be resolved with better policy. A big, orbiting, last-ditch, and unscalable response to telecom monopolies that can be fixed if policymakers actually try. In this world, Starlink-like satellite clusters would only be used in very remote areas, like northern Canada.

If this becomes more popular than that — either through American companies like Amazon and Starlink itself reflecting some sort of neocolonial force of space-based internet access, or through regional efforts like those from Russian and Chinese firms, and those are not mutual options — I worry that we will blanket our sky with tens of thousands more satellites to barely make a dent in a problem with many terrestrial solutions. There are billions of people around the world for whom internet access is slow, expensive, and unreliable, or entirely nonexistent. That is not to say that all of the problems of satellite clusters are inherently insurmountable, but they are significant. For example, while Starlink is attempting to solve reflectivity problems, that only works so long as the sky is not densely packed with satellites. Overall, it would be a long-term mistake to privatize internet policy for something that is, realistically, an inadequate solution for the billions of people who are unserved or poorly served by existing ISPs.