NEW YORK: SpaceX is offering its Starlink broadband satellite Internet service to test users for US$99 a month, plus US$499 for a setup kit, according to emails seen by Reuters, as Elon Musk's space company pushes to offer fast internet speeds to rural customers with limited options.
People in states like Washington, Wisconsin and Idaho who signed up to test Starlink internet received invitations from SpaceX on Monday night to join its "Better Than Nothing Beta" test.
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.
SpaceX has launched to orbit more than 800 satellites of the several thousand needed to offer broadband internet globally, a US$10 billion investment it estimates could generate US$30 billion annually to help fund Musk’s interplanetary rocket program dubbed Starship.
The Starlink Beta program comes as rivals like OneWeb, the collapsed satellite operator rescued by the British government, India’s Bharti Group and Jeff Bezos' Amazon set out to offer their own broadband satellite networks.
"As you can tell from the title, we are trying to lower your initial expectations," read the SpaceX email. "Expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system," the email said, speeds that would download a full-length movie in 30 minutes to over an hour.
“There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all,” the email added.
One user Reuters spoke with paid US$578 for the Starlink kit, including shipping and handling, and cited a SpaceX note saying they "can send everything back for a 75per cent refund" if they're unhappy with the service.
Global communications company ViaSat offers rural internet with speeds of up to 50Mb/s for roughly US$170 per month, according to its website.
A rural school in Texas, Washington state's emergency agency and the rural Hoh Indian Tribe on Washington's Pacific Coast have been early testers of the service in recent months, free of charge.
A company official has told Reuters the company plans to take the satellite internet business public, but not for several years.