New Brunswick

Is Starlink the answer to N.B.'s rural internet issues? Here's what users are saying

After years of putting up with unreliable internet, some New Brunswickers living in rural areas say they’ve finally found a solution.

CBC News asked Starlink users if they believe it could solve the province's longstanding rural internet issue

Starlink satellites have been popping up on rural New Brunswick homes for the past several months. Customers who spoke to CBC News say the service is the answer to rural New Brunswick's high-speed woes. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

After years of putting up with unreliable internet, some New Brunswickers living in rural areas say they've finally found a solution. 

Many claim that Starlink, the brainchild of billionaire Elon Musk, has solved the long-standing problem of high-speed internet access in rural New Brunswick.

"It's almost life-changing," said Brody McGee, who has been using the Starlink internet service for about four months. 

Starlink is a global internet service from Musk's American-based company SpaceX.

Made up of hundreds of low-orbit satellites, they form a mesh-like network around the Earth. That network communicates with coffee table-sized satellite dishes customers can install on their roofs.

There are currently 145,000 users in 25 countries worldwide. On Saturday, Musk tweeted there were "1469 Starlink satellites active" and orbiting the Earth so far.

Some New Brunswickers are switching from rural internet providers like Bell and Xplornet because they say Starlink provides vastly better internet that is comparable to that used in city centres. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

When McGee recently came back to New Brunswick after living in Nunavut, he moved to Bocabec, a community about 20 kilometres northeast of St. Andrews.

Before he switched to Starlink, he said his internet was so bad that watching Netflix was impossible. The only YouTube videos he could watch were the ones offered in the lowest quality. 

"I lived up in Nunavut for almost four years and we had better internet in Pond Inlet than we do in rural New Brunswick," said McGee. 

Brody McGee lives with his partner Charlotte and their children Lily and Brody in Bobabec, NB where he says the internet has been terrible. He says using Starlink over the last few months has been "almost life changing." (Submitted by Brody McGee)

McGee had been using Bell for internet service in Bobabec, a service he says advertised download speeds of up to 10 megabits per second. He said he never saw those speeds.

"It was very brutal," said McGee.

He paid $120 per month for the service, but made the trip to his parents' home in St. Andrews to use their internet for online classes as he works toward becoming a nurse practitioner.

When he moved to Starlink, he said his download speeds went from around two megabits to 200.

Starlink user says he finally has internet access as it should be

6 months ago
Duration 1:00
Jean-Marc Robichaud says his life has changed since high-speed internet became available in rural Fredericton Junction.

Things changed overnight.

His daughter was suddenly able to watch Peppa Pig in the living room while he streamed music at the same time in the kitchen. High-definition television and video calls became an option. He stopped having to leave home for his classes.

"This seems like city-living in the country," said McGee. 

Consistently faster

Harold O'Donnell has had a similar experience. Living in Bath, about 50 kilometres from Woodstock, he said Xplornet was his only internet option. While it did the job, he said it left a lot to be desired.

Harold O’Donnell says he previously subscribed to Xplornet internet, but has since switched to Starlink. (Submitted by Harold O’Donnell)

"I found the service was deteriorating," said O'Donnell. "I do a lot of gaming here and I do a lot of streaming and stuff, and I found sometimes you couldn't stream anything."

Sometimes following a power outage, or a storm, his internet would go out for a day or two afterwards. 

O'Donnell said he'd been getting between 25 and 35 megabits with Xplornet, depending on how many other people were using the system at the same time.

He switched to Starlink looking for higher speeds more consistently in order to complete his online classes for his electrical licence.

"The speed [was] over 300 here yesterday," said O'Donnell. 

Harold O’Donnell installed his Starlink dish next to his Xplornet receiver, a service he says he no longer uses. (Submitted by Harold O’Donnell)

O'Donnell said the new service isn't perfect. He said there was a global outage for about an hour earlier this month, and sometimes his social media feeds are slow to load.

But he said he's very impressed so far. He laments the higher cost to get set up — $649 for the dish, according to the Starlink website. But, at about $150 a month for the service, he said the price is well worth it compared to the competition. 

Higher security

With access to high-speed internet, Jean-Marc Robichaud said he's now able to use devices like internet-connected security cameras and doorbells. 

The Fredericton Junction resident said it was frustrating to see those living in the centre of the village a few kilometres away have had decent high-speed internet for years.

Living on the outskirts meant inferior service. He'd inquired with Bell about getting high-speed lines run out to his road and was told he'd have to fund it himself at a cost estimated at $20,000. 

"Starlink has been a game-changer here for the rural area," said Robichaud. "I know a lot of people who are working from home and this has been a lifesaver." 

Jean-Marc Robichaud lives in Fredericton Junction. He said he struggled to get decent internet for years. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

Robichaud said he'd rather support Canadian-based companies, but says there's no competition to Starlink. 

Campaign promises 

The service highlights a problem that Premier Blaine Higgs raised during the last election campaign. He promised to bring rural broadband speeds in over 70,000 households to 100 megabits per second over three years. 

A recent announcement by Xplornet promises to double download speeds with new 5G towers. But customers like Robichaud say they've heard promises before.

"Starlink is so far ahead that there's nothing that comes close," said Robichaud.

CBC News reached out to SpaceX for details on how many New Brunswickers were using Starlink.

"Unfortunately, we don't have anyone available to connect as our team is focused on rolling out Starlink service around the world," it said in an email.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.

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