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SpaceX clears second hurdle in launching Starlink satellite internet in Canada

Aerospace firm SpaceX has been granted a second round of government approval to provide high-speed internet to Canadians through a constellation of satellites.

Aerospace firm SpaceX has been granted a second round of government approval to provide high-speed internet to Canadians through a constellation of satellites.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said on Friday it approved SpaceX's Starlink program, which aims to offer broadband internet in areas where connections tend to be unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.

“Our government recognizes that high-speed Internet access is no longer a luxury — it is essential," said Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains of the project's approval. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how much we all rely on digital connections. Now more than ever, Canadians are working, learning and communicating with friends and family from home." 

ISED's signoff comes after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission granted its license in mid-October. The company's website says it is targeting a 2020 launch for services in the northern U.S. and Canada.

After being asked when Canadians can try the service, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Nov. 5 that he was just “awaiting approval from Canadian authorities.” SpaceX has said it will dim the brightness of the low-earth satellites to avoid light pollution after some Canadians raise the concern during the CRTC approval process.

“This regulatory approval will allow them to begin using their Starlink Constellation to provide high speed internet connectivity to rural and remote communities in Canada,” Bains said in a statement.

SpaceX’s website says the project is “still in its early stages” and undergoing tests. But the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington state's Department of Commerce said it tried the service with Hoh Tribe members, and residents of the reservation were able to use it to attend telehealth appointments and virtual learning sessions.

Over 2,500 comments on SpaceX’s endeavor were submitted to the CRTC, many highlighting the need for better internet service in their areas. 

Kenneth Flack, a councillor for the municipality of Pointe Fortune, Que. said he is hoping the project will help those most disadvantaged in rural communities.

Lack of connectivity there “severely” limited the ability of children, businesses and isolated seniors to connect during the height of COVID-19 isolation recommendations, Flack wrote to the CRTC in May.

“I have been working from home for months now with extremely limited internet and extremely high bills for low quality service. There are no options for me from any current Canadian telecom,”  Steven Sauve, chief product officer of ASAPP Financial Technology Inc. in Richards Landing, Ont, wrote to regulators.

“It is important to allow this entry into the market so underserviced areas have a viable option.” 

Last year, SpaceX also worked with the Canadian Space Agency on a separate project to launch its Earth-observation satellites, called the RADARSAT Constellation. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.

Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press

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