The skies are going to get very crowded very soon. Two weeks ago we reported that billionaire Elon Musk plans to launch 4,000 satellites to provide internet everywhere. Now Richard Branson, the billionaire owners of Virgin Airlines, Virgin Records and dozens of other Virgin brands, wants to launch his own fleet of 700 internet satellites.
The Federal Communications Commission just released a statement announcing that OneWeb, backed in part by Branson, has been given approval to begin launching its own low-orbit web of internet satellites.
Back in the year 2000, OneWeb acquired the satellite spectrum formerly owned by a company called SkyBridge, and immediately began developing its concept for providing broadband internet. Now the company is ready to turn that concept into reality.
According to the FCC statement, OneWeb will launch as many as 720 non-geostationary satellite low-Earn orbit satellites that have the potential to provide high-speed broadband to everyone. And when we say everyone, we really mean everyone.
That’s great news for all those CheapInternet.com readers who’ve complained that they can’t get internet service where they live. The OneWeb satellite network will bring high-speed broadband to all those residents of rural and hard-to-reach areas who are left in the lurch by traditional internet service providers.
But that’s just the beginning because OneWeb has even loftier goals — such as connecting every unconnected school as soon as 2022, and “bridging the digital divide” as soon as 2027.
Like we said, the skies are about to get very crowded and American internet users are about to get a lot more choices. TheVerge.com reports, “Other companies are currently planning similar ‘space internet’ satellite constellations, including Boeing, ViaSat, Telesat, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has been meeting with the FCC for months. Tom Sullivan, chief of the FCC’s International Bureau, says the additional applications range from ‘as little as two satellites to as many as 4,000,’ and are still under review by the bureau.”
Someone better get the launchpad ready because OneWeb isn’t wasting any time. It says it will launch its first 10 satellites by early 2018. And if things go as planned, they’ll begin launching the remaining 690 satellites as early as 2019.
Leave it to the government, though, to toss a bucket of cold water on its own exciting announcement.
FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly attempted to tamp down any potential excitement when he issued a statement of his own that said the “scope of these systems has raised many issues, such as preventing in-line interference and orbital debris, which will need to be considered further” and that “there are also multiple conditions on OneWeb’s approval. For example, access to some frequencies could be restricted by future Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service (MVDDS) proceedings and our action today is conditioned on the outcome of the larger NGSO rulemaking.”
Putting O’Reilly’s cautionary comments aside, these are truly exciting times for those who desperately need Internet access, but can’t get it.
Now we just need to sit back and wait to see if any of these grandiose plans can actually be made to work. And if they can, we need to hope that the prices charged by these sky-high internet service providers aren’t equally sky-high.