Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites transmit the Internet to a remote Chilean fishing village

After half an hour of windswept travel on foot and by boat across a rugged forest estuary to his school in remote southern Chile, Diego Guerrero can finally access the Internet.

His school is located in the village of Sotomo, about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of the capital Santiago, in the Los Lagos region, and inhabited by just 20 families.

A rain-soaked scattering of brightly painted wooden and tin houses, Sotomo stands out against a row of mist-shrouded rock outcroppings that jut into the Pacific Ocean. It can only be accessed by boat.

For decades, its inhabitants survived by catching mussels and fish to sell at the market, five hours away by boat.

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Father and son arrive at the John F Kennedy School in the village of Sotomo, Chile
Photo credit: Reuters / Pablo Sanhueza

It is now one of two places in Chile to be chosen for a pilot project run by billionaire Elon Musk, chief executive of SpaceX, to receive free Internet for a year.

Starlink, a division of SpaceX, plans to launch 12,000 satellites as part of a low-latency orbital network to provide low-latency broadband Internet services around the world, with a particular focus on remote areas that terrestrial Internet infrastructure struggles with. to reach.

Since October, it has offered a ‘Better Than Nothing Beta’ program to subscribers in the United States, while piloting it in other countries. In Chile, a second antenna will be installed at Caleta Sierra, a small fishing port near the arid deserts of the north.

The plan is key to generating the funds SpaceX needs to finance Musk’s dream of developing a new rocket capable of taking paying customers to the moon and eventually trying to colonize Mars.

For 7-year-old Diego, the stable Internet is already a dream.

“I really like the Internet because we can do our homework,” he said. “It’s faster so we can do more.”

Starlink did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters. SpaceX’s chief of operations, Gwynne Shotwell, said in a July statement about the Chilean pilot: “Starlink is designed for remote communities like Caleta Sierra and Sotomo. High-speed connectivity can have a transformative impact on these communities. “

Expanding horizons

Diego’s favorite subject at school is math. He wants to be a sailor and loves to go on his father Carlos’ fishing boat.

Carlos, 40, has more ambitious plans for his son and hopes the window to the world that the new Internet connection will give him will broaden his horizons.

He takes Diego to school daily by boat, often fighting the wind and rain to get him there.

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A man is standing at the door of one of the only two shops in the village of Sotomo, Chile.
Photo credit: Reuters / Pablo Sanhueza

“I didn’t have the option to go to school, so you go in any conditions, good or bad weather or pandemic, even if it’s difficult,” he said.

“If he has a good education, he has that option and is eager to do so, so you have every parent’s hopes that maybe one day all Sotomo’s kids can get professional jobs.”

Using tablets provided by the Ministry of Education, the school’s seven students can now access online learning material, watch movies, take virtual museum tours and experience video calls to children from other schools.

His only professor at Sotomo’s John F. Kennedy School, Javier de la Barra, said he also hopes to use him for professional development.

The signal is received through a satellite dish installed on the roof of the school, which transmits via a wi-fi device to a large part of its facilities and outdoor patio. Eventually, the plan is to extend it to the rest of the village.

It only works from midday to midnight, due to the restriction in the supply of diesel to the generator that supplies energy to Sotomo.

However, de la Barra said, it is a significant advance in the erratic mobile Internet signal that residents can currently get on their phones by leaning out of windows or paddling out into the bay.

Starlink antennas were installed in July and inaugurated earlier this month in a ceremony attended by the Minister of Transport and Telecommunications, Gloria Hutt.

She said she hopes Starlink will prove the key to reducing Chile and the wider region’s digital divide — a problem exposed with the advent of coronavirus locks that has left people without a good Internet scrambling to work or study.

Chile has one of the highest Internet penetration rates on the continent, with 21 million mobile Internet connections among its population of 19 million as of March 2021, according to government data.

But as families in Sotomo can attest, having mobile Internet doesn’t mean there’s always a signal.

“I love living here,” said Carlos Guerrero. “It’s calm, my family is calm, but they lack connectivity, roads, electricity and drinking water.

“What would be great is if all of these services could be extended to our community, not just a small part, so that everyone could take advantage of them.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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