Wisconsin program to test SpaceX internet service in Eau Claire County

String Of Satellites Baffles Residents, Bugs Astronomers
Reed Hoffmann

File-In this photo taken May 6, 2021, with a long exposure, a string of SpaceX StarLink satellites passes over an old stone house near Florence, Kan. The train of lights was actually a series of relatively low-flying satellites launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX as part of its Starlink internet service earlier this week.

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WKBT) — A new program in Wisconsin will test out the SpaceX internet service in Eau Claire County in an effort to bring high-speed internet to rural areas.

The program was announced Thursday by Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

The pilot program will test Space X’s Starlink, a constellation of low Each orbit satellites to provide internet to areas where broadband is limited.

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.

“We know that having access to reliable, affordable internet is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Gov. Evers said. “Making sure that every Wisconsinite has access to this vital service is going to require creativity and innovation, and that’s the kind of approach WEDC’s investment in Starlink demonstrates.”

The program is part of a larger push in the state to expand internet access.

“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.

By partnering with schools and healthcare systems, the county will be able to get a good idea of how the service works for different uses, said Dave Hayden, information systems director for Eau Claire County.

“We’re testing this technology in an area that’s unserved and underserved and testing this in a way that it gives all of these entities information on how it works for their applications,” Hayden said. “The real goal of this is to prove the technology.”