Some have suggested that Starlink, a new satellite-based internet service, is coming so we don’t need to build our own. Starlink may be great for some people a few years from now when more satellites are up and it's not in beta testing anymore. But it isn't currently a reliable option, and as that is eventually fixed, it still won't be the best solution for everyone, and not a workable solution for some folks in Somerville.
Unobstructed sky view requirements
See Why do I need a clear “field of view” to use Starlink? at https://starlink.com/faq
If you could see the connection between a Starlink satellite and your Starlink, it would look like a single beam between the two objects. As the satellite moves, the beam also moves.
The area within which this beam moves is the “field of view”. If any object such as a tree, chimney, pole, etc. interrupts the path of the beam, even briefly, your internet service will be interrupted.
In early service, the required clear field of view is a 100-degree cone around the center of the dish (after tilting) with a 25 degree elevation minimum. Some obstructions are worse than others. Obstructions low in the sky will cause more outages because satellites are in this area of the sky more frequently.
The best guidance we can give is to install your Starlink at the highest elevation possible where it is safe to do so, with a clear view of the sky. Users who live in areas with lots of tall trees, buildings, etc. may not be good candidates for early use of Starlink. However as more satellites are launched, the field of view constraints will decrease, enabling a wider variety of users.
Most people do not accurately assess their Starlink's field of view. To ensure the best possible service, download the Starlink app to assess field of view in your desired install location before installing.
For a personal perspective here is a blog post by a Starlink Beta tester, Joe Meadows in Liberty, Maine. The blogger emphasizes that Starlink is not yet ready for non-beta use, the amount of space free of trees needed around your home to get the sky view you need, and that obstructions will cause loss of service, at least briefly multiple times during the day:
"Starlink is not currently for you if you have access to cable or fiber internet and can reliably get download speeds in excess of about 75 mbps and upload speeds of more than 15 mbps, with latency under about 50 ms."
"Let me repeat that: FREE OF OBSTRUCTIONS. You can download the free Starlink app on either the iOS App store or Google Play store, and use that app to tell you whether or not you will have obstructions in the location you wish to mount your Starlink dish, without having to sign up or purchase anything. DO THAT. The app is very accurate, and you should do this BEFORE you order, to check out your location. Be aware that if you have just a tiny little bit of a tree that is barely visible in the area that's supposed to be free of obstructions, you will still have a loss of signal each day, which means no service, even if just for a few seconds or so each time."
"Obstructions bring the Starlink signal to a screeching, full stop rather than just slowing it down, so this means your call or video conference will just freeze up. If it’s just a little bit of obstruction, you won’t usually notice it when streaming a video because video streaming has some buffering built in that helps to make up for that. But you notice every second of loss during a call or web conference, so keep that in mind."
"The obstruction-free area required will improve over time as more satellites are launched, but at present, in our Maine home with many trees around it, we found that even if we mounted the dish on the roof of our two-story home, we needed about 50 yards (not feet – YARDS) of clear area to the north, and about 15-20 yards to the sides, and about 10 yards to the south, to be free of obstructions. We had exactly one spot where we could mount the dish, but that was, luckily, all we needed. Your situation will vary based on the height and location of trees or other obstacles, and the height at which you can mount your dish. Height is the single best thing you can do to improve things because it helps you clear obstacles around you, but it’s also a difficult thing to achieve for most homeowners. So again, USE THE APP TO TEST FOR OBSTRUCTIONS, BEFORE YOU ORDER."
Starlink is expected to cost $99 per month for 100Mbps download with 20Mbps upload (100/20), plus a one-time fee of $500 per customer to buy the satellite receiver, and $49 shipping.
The $549 setup cost aside, there are many Somerville households that can't afford $100 per month just for internet service, not including streaming services, phone, or other services. But there aren't any more affordable options from Starlink.
The Somerville municipal broadband network will offer two lower priced options: 25/25 for $64.99 per month and 50/50 for $79.99.
The Somerville municipal broadband network will also have a broadband affordability fund established through other grants we are pursuing, and maintained through a bit of the town's share of revenues from rates paid by its internet subscribers. Our recommendation is that the affordability fund subsidize a portion of the cost of service subscriptions to the network by households with students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Starlink 100/20 service will cost $99 per month. The Somerville municipal broadband fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network 100/100 service will cost $99.99 per month. If upload speeds are important to you, or even if they aren't, the FTTH network provides 5 times the upload speed for only $12 dollars more a year. In addition, the municipal network will provide backhaul equal to the committed subscriber bandwidth. In other words, the municipal network won't throttle subscribers. Starlink during Beta is not throttled either, but makes no such promise for the future. In terms of lower cost values, a Somerville 25/25 service for $64.99/month has greater upload speed than a Starlink 100/20 service for $99/month.
Comparison with Somerville Municipal Broadband Network FTTH
A Somerville municipal broadband FTTH connection:
Won’t require cutting down trees that are close to your home, and won't become unreliable when the trees you have grow taller.
You'll get the service you subscribe to with no future data cap or throttling.
Will provide greater value for your $100 per month if you want 100Mbps, and offers more affordable options of 25/25 or 50/50, as well as 1Gbps (1000Mbps) capability, for those who need and can afford higher performance.