Starlink may be answer for Lake of Bay's notorious internet woes

·3 min read

With high speed affordable internet within sight of their home for years, a Lake of Bays couple gave up waiting for it to be extended and signed up for Starlink. Robert Harley and Kimberly Redwood have lived on Whitehouse Bay for 15 years, 10 minutes from Baysville. Like many other rural communities in Muskoka, it's known for its broadband connectivity issues. Last Thursday, they placed an order with the new Starlink internet service, developed by Elon Musk's company SpaceX. The service provides internet connections through small satellites working with ground transceivers. This February, it became available for preorders in select areas across Canada. The nearest fibre optic cable to Harley and Redwood stops within 500 metres of their home on White House and South Portage roads. They said they've been waiting years for a better internet service to arrive in their area. Currently, they use a cellphone plan to access the internet through a modem. Harley pays $79.95 a month for 350 GB of internet, however added overage charges often set them back another $75-100 a month, he said.

"The internet isn't bad, the speed is OK, the quality is OK. The problem is the price," Harley said.

Harley heard about Starlink in late 2020 and decided to sign up for the "beta testing" list. When preorders opened up at the beginning of February, he immediately placed his order. The satellite is now on its way to their house, though they don't know when it will arrive.

The dish rotates to follow the position of global satellites and self-heats to prevent snow or debris from collecting on it. The equipment, including the satellite dish, cost Harley $800 with shipping charges and taxes. His household will pay $129 plus taxes per month for the service charge, which includes access to unlimited broadband. Users have to place it at the highest point possible, so Harley paid extra for a roof mount.

"I figure it pays for itself in the first six months," Harley said. He said Starlink could prove to be a viable option for people in rural Lake of Bays, like him and his wife, who've been waiting to access fibre optic broadband for over a decade. Stuart Morley, executive director of the Parry Sound Muskoka Community Network, recently installed Starlink at his home. He said Starlink, although not affordable for all, could "make a huge dent" in closing the broadband gap, compared to fibre optic internet. "Other options like rolling fibre optic take a long time, years and years, and it's very expensive," Morley said. "At some point ... it's just not worth it." As for what the couple are expecting of this much-hyped "21st-century" technology, Harley said he's not holding his breath but is willing to take the gamble. "If it's 75 per cent of what they say [it is], it'll be equal to what I've got," he said. "That goes a long way to make me happy."With files from Sarah Law.

Zahraa Hmood is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering the municipalities of Muskoka Lakes, Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Zahraa Hmood, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com