Forty rural schools are getting a free Starlink satellite broadband connection.
Crown agency Network For Learning (N4L) and recently-appointed Starlink reseller 2degrees are offering the connections via the Satellite for Schools programme, commissioned by the Ministry of Education.
So far, 37 schools have been confirmed to get service from the firm, run by Elon Musk.
Connection is free, and there are no monthly bills under the fully-funded initiative. Network management services including cybersecurity and content filtering are also included, plus a helpdesk.
The total cost of the programme was not immediately available. N4L was setup to help schools connect to the Ultrafast Fibre (UFB) network and manage their connections.
An N4L spokesman said the schools involved were already on N4L, and Starlink installations were classed as an “upgrade change of service” under N4L’s existing Managed Network programme, which has existing funding of around $45m per year to manage broadband connections for more than 2500 schools.
The schools are getting Starlink business-grade connections, which include a larger $4200 dish with higher “gain” than the $650 Starlink dish for home installs.
That means faster performance (up to 350 megabits per second, or faster than most fibre connections) and more resilient reception during bad weather (which can otherwise degrade satellite broadband, just as wild weather can interrupt Sky TV).
While regular Starlink costs $159 per month (competitive by remote rural standards), Starlink Business offers three plans: $426/month (including 1 terabyte of data), $840/month (with 2TB) and $2507/month (with 6TB).
Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngāringaomatariki, a remote coastal kura (school) approximately 30 minutes northwest of Wellsford, had struggled with poor internet connection and limited digital learning opportunities for some time due to the location, unpredictable local weather and poor local coverage from communication towers.
“We’ve had major issues with our internet for a number of years,” the kura’s tumuaki (principal) Reno Skipper said.
“On many occasions, we weren’t even able to mark the morning roll, or we might have only been able to have one or two computers on in a classroom at the same time.
“The staff were teaching and trying to bring in different ideas and different resources, but they couldn’t be accessed because of poor internet connectivity. It really limited our ability to teach the kids.”
He added, “We’ve purchased subscriptions to [online] maths programmes that we previously weren’t able to use. Even in the space of a month, it’s made a huge difference to how we teach, and there’s been noticeable improvement in the engagement of the kids. They’re now able to take full ownership of their own learning.”
In July, the programme kicked off with connection of the first school - Okains Bay School on Banks Peninsula in the Christchurch region. Since then, more than 30 more schools across the North and South Islands have been connected, with another handful of schools scheduled for connection soon.
Spark and One NZ have also signed on as Starlink Business resellers. One NZ has also partnered with Starlink on a satellite-to-mobile service (due late next year; Spark and 2degrees will offer similar plans through putative Starlink rival Lynk).
By dint of its merger with Vocus (aka Orcon Group), 2degrees also manages three of Starlink’s six New Zealand ground stations.
Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson told the Herald earlier this month that Starlink is “the fastest-growing proposition in the rural space”.
Musk’s firm now has 2 per cent market share in the NZ broadband market overall, Gilbertson said.
In April, Starlink slashed the cost of its home dish (curently $650) from $1049 to $199 on an open-ended promotion, leading to Wispa - a coalition of small, locally-owned wireless internet providers - to accuse it of “potentially predatory pricing”.
Chris Keall is an Auckland-based member of the Herald’s business team. He joined the Herald in 2018 and is the technology editor and a senior business writer.