Wise Co. Schools announce project with SpaceX, connecting select families to space-based internet

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WISE COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – It’s not exactly what pops in your head when you think of SpaceX, but improving internet connectivity has been on the minds of Wise County Public School officials for a while now, and through this new partnership that dream has become a reality.

Wise County Public Schools alongside the Wise County Board of Supervisors are working with SpaceX to expand broadband in the district, specifically for students in the more rural areas of the county.

“Long before the pandemic, we knew that this problem existed however the pandemic obviously brought it to the forefront. We have students who need to be connected now and can’t wait on that continued build-out,” said Wise Co. Public Schools Director of Technology, Scott Kiser.

The project will initially provide free internet service to 45 families within the district. According to Kiser, they have identified and for the most part, reached out to the families who will be receiving this service and as network capabilities continue to grow, they hope to expand to an additional 90 families.

While most students are in person currently, that won’t be the case for long as they plan to revert back to virtual learning following the winter break.

“In-person or virtual, our homes need to be connected, we don’t want our school day to end when the bell rings and they get in that car or get on the bus and go home,” said Kiser.

Through this partnership, internet connectivity will be less of a worry as Wise County Public Schools become the first district in Virginia to utilize space-based internet to connect students.

“SpaceX, the Starlink, the low orbit satellite brings low latency which means we have less drag less lag through the connectivity and it’s that broadband type speed that we need,” said Kiser.

As far as what Starlink is, it’s a space-based internet system that will deliver high-speed broadband to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.

While they’re the first, they hope they are far from the last. “We hope that we can expand this and we hope to see it in other counties throughout Virginia where there is limited access,” said Superintendent Wise Co. Public Schools, Greg Mullins.

Superintendent Greg Mullins is looking at all the possibilities that can emerge from this partnership.

“What about training our students in our career center to produce these satellite boxes and what if we had a program where we could trade them our students to install these packages,” he said.

Mullins said equipment is coming in the coming weeks and they plan to have everything set up and connected by February.

Both Mullins and Kiser thanked Jack Kennedy, the Wise County Circuit court clerk who brought the SpaceX Starlink concept to their attention.

As of right now, Mullins said there is a two-year window for this project, but after working out initial bugs and seeing how it goes, he said he can see them expanding it further and continuing it for the foreseeable future.

Those 45 families that are apart of the BETA launch have been notified for the most part and Kiser said many have expressed great appreciation.

As far as cost, Kiser said the cost is split between the school district and the board of supervisors and he’s even received a grant to help cover equipment costs for the school. As far as a grand total, Kiser and Mullins did not comment but did release that no cost will fall upon these families.

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