Something like two million schools globally don’t have internet access. The greatest obstacle to connectivity is often infrastructure: fiber, cell towers, microwave towers, receiving equipment all are expensive.
LEO internet satellites offer an unprecedented opportunity to link schools. What would be required for this to happen?
- Starlink, the new LEO service most likely to scale, needs to prioritize schools. Ideally it would waive some or all of data costs for the first 100 thousand schools connected.
- GIGA needs to expand its database of all schools globally. It has a great head start.
- The multilaterals, bilaterals, and philanthropic sector need to buy or subsidize user terminals (ideally at a discount from SpaceX). If user terminals are in fact in the low hundreds of dollars each, this should be a manageable expenditure. (The Broadband Commission has called for $109 billion for connectivity, just for Africa). Data usage will also require subsidies.
- On-the-ground partners need to be identified for installation of antennas and servicing — although ideally this isn’t too complicated.
- Countries need to prioritize bringing schools online, which has implications for licensing and spectrum for satellite providers.
This doesn’t sound like too daunting a list. I’ve also worked for years in developing countries and understand that simple plans are frequently derailed. The end goal here, however, is so important, that maybe with the promise of LEO internet satellites we’ll make rapid and significant process bringing online the next million schools.