WEDC Announces SpaceX Pilot Program to Provide Internet Service in Eau Claire County

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) yesterday announced they are assisting Eau Claire County in launching a pilot program to test SpaceX’s Starlink, a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites that can provide high-speed internet in rural areas where broadband is limited or not available.

The pilot project, which will provide high-speed internet to 50 rural homes and businesses, is being supported by a $27,500 Capacity Building Grant from WEDC, as well as funding from a group of healthcare providers including Marshfield Clinic, Mayo Clinic and Hospital Sisters Health System. Chippewa Valley Technical College and PESI Online Learning also contributed and are partners on the pilot project.

“The pandemic has demonstrated that reliable, high-speed internet access is essential today for work, for school and to access healthcare,” said Missy Hughes, WEDC secretary and CEO. “Getting broadband out to everyone in this state isn’t a moon shot, but it will require a variety of creative, innovative approaches because there’s no one one-size-fits-all solution.”

During the one-year pilot program, Eau Claire County residents will test how well the service performs for work, for accessing healthcare and for attending online classes. What makes the Starlink system different than traditional satellite internet is that it uses satellites in a low orbit. This can reduce the service’s latency – the delay between sending and receiving data, or the lag between talking and hearing someone respond.

SpaceX’s Starlink is now delivering initial beta service both domestically and internationally and will continue expansion to near-global coverage in 2021. For this pilot, the county with assistance from WEDC and others is paying the $499 equipment fee and $99 a month service fee for each participating household for one year.

Other community-minded organizations also donated to the project including Eau Claire Energy Cooperative, Eau Claire Economic Development Corporation and Royal Credit Union.