Firth’s take on tech: Local Internet providers could grow as new space race picks up

David Firth

Spectrum or CenturyLink? That’s the question in Missoula when it comes to the choices between Internet providers.

In a recent survey of customer satisfaction with companies, cable and Internet providers came in dead last. So really, does it matter?

Right now you only have a choice between Spectrum or CenturyLink, but that’s not going to be the case for very long.

Tintin A and Tintin B are test satellites that Elon Musk of SpaceX just put into low-earth orbit to test out a new way for us to get super-fast Internet. His plan is to put 12,000 satellites into space over the next six years to create a complete global-coverage Internet service.

It will actually take only 4,500 to get coverage of the entire planet, so there’s a lot of redundancy built in to this network, meaning it should work all of the time and everywhere.

Even better, you can log on to Starlink right now: “Don’t tell anyone, but the wifi password is ‘martians’,” joked Elon Musk.

Unfortunately, that’s not true, or at least the modem in my basement doesn’t seem to be able to find either of the Tintin satellites. It turns out, of course, that we’ll all need new modems to get this space-based Internet, ones that are tuned to the microwave frequency radio spectrum.

The thing is, if Elon Musk doesn’t get this done quickly, or well, then there will be other choices. OneWeb, Space Norway and Telesat have all got satellite-based Internet systems on the books, but as yet no satellites in space where they need to be.

But Elon Musk owns a space company, SpaceX, that has now launched 49 satellites or other payloads into space, so he has a huge advantage here. Plus, he has almost $21 billion in personal wealth to make this happen if he needs to.

So, we just need to wait until, perhaps, early 2019 to be able to say Spectrum, CenturyLink or Starlink when it comes to Internet providers in Missoula.

Dr. David Firth is a professor of Management Information Systems at the UM College of Business. He has two degrees in Physics from Oxford University and is an English Chartered Accountant. He was a managing director of a global technology consulting firm in San Francisco before getting his Ph.D. at the business school at UCLA.  You can reach him at montanaprof@gmail.com