SULLIVAN — Mainers who signed up to receive a Starlink Kit — equipment from billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s broadband internet service — are starting to receive and set up the technology that will connect them to satellite internet. And for many, the calls for increased broadband access may have been answered. But will it come at the cost of experiencing Maine’s dark skies?
Lights on Starlink satellites have caused some concern among observers of Maine’s star-filled, night skies. A Jan. 6 article by the Associated Press reported that Starlink was adjusting its satellites to give them a darker coating to help mitigate their interference with people enjoying the night sky and researchers observing it.
Dark Sky Maine Vice President and Secretary John Meader said he has not yet observed Starlink satellites, but his colleague, Dark Sky Maine President Nancy Hathaway, has and was alarmed by how many satellites she saw.
“It is for a good purpose,” he noted.
“I don’t want to deny anyone the internet. I live by it every day,” Meader said. “There’s got to be a balance to how we do that, so we don’t lose something else.”
Starlink gives rural customers a new option in the longtime effort to expand broadband access.
“People who have installed it are delighted,” said Sullivan resident Don Snoke at a June 14 meeting of the Sullivan Board of Selectmen.
He said Starlink customers are reporting speeds of 150, 300 and, in some instances, 800 megabits per second (Mbps). The service costs $99 per month and the Starlink Kit costs $499 before shipping.
Streaming a movie on Netflix, for example, requires speeds of at least 1.5 Mbps, according to the ConnectME Authority. To stream in “Ultra HD” requires 25 Mbps, according to Netflix.
Starlink Kits will connect subscribers to thousands of satellites launched by Musk’s company, SpaceX, his venture to bring space travel and technology to the private sector.
Snoke has been working to help get his community connected to the internet and has been providing regular reports to the Board of Selectmen of his work.
Besides researching Starlink,
Snoke has investigated availability with Spectrum and TrailRunner, a wireless internet service recently sold by Consolidated Communications to Maine-based Wireless Partners.
Following Snoke’s research, the town of Sullivan is in the process of purchasing Starlink equipment. The town office already has wireless internet service through Spectrum but is considering how having the equipment on hand could assist residents in the future.
According to Starlink’s website, its method of delivering internet service has been built with rural communities in mind and is “ideally suited for areas of the globe where connectivity has typically been a challenge.”
What is unknown of the satellite internet provider are the impacts the Starlink satellites launched into orbit could have on dark skies — a prominent Maine resource.
Dark Sky Maine primarily deals with land-based lighting, working with communities “to use appropriate lighting that provides security on the ground, while maintaining dark skies overhead,” so that Maine’s dark skies are preserved for astronomers and leisurely stargazers alike.
Appropriate lighting includes lights with warmer, incandescent bulbs and streetlights that shine light downward and not up at the sky.
Meader, an astronomy photographer, said satellites have always been a concern for dark sky observers. Satellites can affect images by producing white lines through photographs, he said.
He said a balance must be struck in protecting Maine’s dark skies and getting rural communities connected to broadband infrastructure.
“I’m not trying to take that away,” he added. “But the sky is valuable to our heritage.”
He said Maine’s access to dark skies can be taken for granted.
“You get outside of Maine and people don’t see the Milky Way,” he said. “It’s a resource that’s disappearing.”