Nooksack Partners with SpaceX’s Starlink Program for Broadband on Tribal Lands

IT, Tribal Council

The Nooksack Indian Tribe is partnering with SpaceX for rural access to the internet. SpaceX’s Starlink beta testing program aims to provide high-speed internet to remote locations such as Nooksack Tribal lands. Most rural Nooksack Tribal areas lack the infrastructure to provide fast internet. The Tribe has been searching for a reliable solution for the community to get online.

On March 24, 2021, the Nooksack Tribe hosted a Starlink demonstration installation with community partners also hoping to solve internet access issues across Whatcom County. Attendees included local school districts, Lummi Nation, Opportunity Council, Port of Bellingham, County Councilmember Rud Browne, Commissioner of Whatcom PUD Christine Grant, and County Executive Satpal Sidhu. A Starlink kit was successfully installed at one of Nooksack’s community buildings, and within minutes, attendees were able to connect to the internet at 190 Mbps.

Installation of the kits successfully began at tribal homesite March 5, 2021. For up to 102 units, the Nooksack Tribal Council will serve as the “Angel Account” for the first year of service. These households were identified as the most needed Tribal areas because they were below the federal broadband minimum of 25 Mbps download speeds. Successfully installed Nooksack kits report download speeds between 80-140 Mbps. After the first year of service, households will have the opportunity to assume liability of service and take over payments for $99/month. The Starlink kits will belong to the families at no additional cost.

Living without the internet can restrict access to education, work, healthcare, and other economic opportunities. Tribal lands are said to be some of the most limited service areas. According to the National Library Association, almost 7 out of every 10 residents on rural tribal lands do not have access to the internet.

During the pandemic, working environments have become dependent on the internet, with an increase in remote learning, working from home, data-intensive video calls, and telehealth appointments. Socially, the internet has been a primary form of connectivity while practicing physical distancing. With COVID-19, Nooksack Tribal members have reported hundreds of dollars in additional internet spending, with poor- or no- connection, compromising quality of work, grade point averages, access to care, and connection to friends and family. Starlink is a simple plug-and-play kit which includes a small satellite, Wi-Fi router, power supply, cables, and tripod. The Starlink facility based in Redmond, WA.

Christine Grant, Commissioner of Whatcom PUD, and Daleno Cooper, Nooksack’s IT director, at the March 24th event. Lona Johnson, Tribal Councilmember, right in foreground.
Nooksack Tribal Chairman Ross Cline Sr. and Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu greet with the Starlink satellite in the foreground.
Attendees at Nooksack’s Starlink demonstration March 24th included several community partners working on solutions to internet access issues in Whatcom County.