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Elon Musk's SpaceX: Now Starlink broadband 'catapults Washington tribe into 21st century'

SpaceX's Starlink helps end the Hoh Tribe's eight-year struggle to get decent broadband in western Washington state.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The Native American Hoh Tribe in western Washington state has become one of the first groups to gain access to SpaceX's emerging Starlink satellite broadband service. 

Details of the Hoh Tribe's access to Starlink, via Ars Technica, were revealed in a recently released video by the Washington State Department that showcases the Washington State Broadband Office's efforts to deliver universal broadband access by 2024, in line with a law passed last year.

"It seemed like out of nowhere SpaceX just came up and catapulted us into the 21st century," said Melvinjohn Ashue, the vice chair for the Hoh Indian tribe.

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Washington state is one of the few areas in the US that SpaceX Starlink broadband has coverage from just over 700 satellites currently in orbit. 

SpaceX's private Starlink beta kicked off in July and its first known tester was Washington state military's emergency-management unit, which began using seven Starlink end-user terminals in early August as part of its response to rebuild fire-ravaged parts of the state. Washington's first responders deployed the terminals to residents in Malden, Washington. 

Russ Elliott, director of the recently established Washington State Broadband Office, said the Hoh Tribe contacted his organization at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and explained the difficulties they had connecting to the internet. 

"They definitely had very limited internet and they were very nervous about the future," he said. 

According to Ashue, the tribe has struggled for nearly a decade to bring reliable internet to the reservation, which is located 23 miles south of Forks, a small town in Washington. 

"We're very remote. The past eight years I feel like we've been paddling upriver with a spoon and almost getting nowhere with getting internet to the reservation," he said. 

The broadband office introduced Starlink to the tribe and, according to Elliott, SpaceX felt "compelled" to assist. 

"Our youth are able to do education online, participate in videos. Telehealth is no longer going to be an issue," said Ashue. 

Elliott's office is aiming to deliver all businesses and residences broadband download speeds of 25Mbps and upload speeds of at least 3Mbps by 2024. By 2028, it wants to ensure residents and businesses have access to at least one broadband provider that can deliver 150Mbps symmetrical speeds. The office is also in the process of mapping internet speeds across the state.

Elliott recently told Geekwire that in his role at the office before COVID he was "the wallflower at the prom", but during COVID broadband and his office became the "prom king". 

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More residents in Washington and other areas in northern US could get access to Starlink services in the near future. After last week's launch of 60 more Starlink satellites, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said it was ready to roll out a "fairly wide public beta" in northern US and hopefully southern Canada.  

SpaceX recently revealed internet performance tests showing it was capable of download speeds of between 102Mbps to 103Mbps, upload speeds of about 40.5Mbps, and a latency of 18 milliseconds to 19 milliseconds. 

Starlink user speed tests posted to TestMy.Net show an average download speed of 37.04Mbps, with a top speed of 91.04Mbps. Other tests show a top download number of 103Mbps, upload speeds of 41.99Mbps, and a latency of 18 milliseconds.

This video showcases the Washington State Broadband Office's efforts to deliver universal broadband access by 2024. Source: YouTube

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