For Thomas Fiema, the simple experience of going online falls somewhere between a crapshoot and pulling teeth.
Fiema, who works in IT, lives in a relatively isolated house outside Milton, Ont., with his wife, four kids and two in-laws. The only home internet service available to them is DSL, or a digital subscriber line — an older access technology that runs across aging copper phone wires.
While many internet users in big cities are now surfing on super-fast fibre-optic networks at speeds of 100 megabits per second or more, Fiema and his family max out at a measly 2.5 Mbps. Netflix, for reference’s sake, recommends at least 3 Mbps for standard definition video streaming and 5 Mbps for high definition.
The connection is so slow that household members have to schedule when they want to be online to avoid using it at the same time. Even still, it often drops entirely.
So, when billionaire entrepreneur and Tesla electric car impresario Elon Musk recently signalled to telecommunications regulators that he intends to provide super-fast internet service to rural Canadians via satellite, Fiema could hardly contain his excitement.
“It just seems like a godsend,” he says. “This is perfect, there’s no way I can’t support it.”
Musk’s application with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, lodged in May via his Hawthorne, Calif.-based company Space Exploration Technologies, has mustered an unusual groundswell of public support.
As of publication time, more than 2,100 Canadians — including Fiema — have written to the CRTC to urge its approval for what is known as a Basic International Telecommunications Service licence. The regulator has extended the public comment deadline to this Friday to accommodate the high level of interest.
Samer Bishay, chief executive of Toronto-based phone provider Iristel, says it’s more the large telecom companies such as Bell and Rogers that need to be concerned about Musk — who holds Canadian, American and South African citizenships — and his move into internet access services.
While Starlink is currently targeting only rural internet customers, the company is likely to provide home phone service over its network, he says. LEO technology could also soon prove to be competitive with fibre and cellular wireless connectivity.
“Is it going to change the landscape? Yeah, potentially,” says Bishay, a former systems engineer at the Canadian Space Agency. “Who says that 10 years from now, your cellphone can’t communicate directly with a satellite, so maybe you start switching providers?”