Quebec to connect 10,000 homes to high-speed Internet with help from Elon Musk's Starlink

The Legault government will use the services of Tesla founder Elon Musk's company to fulfill its promise to bring high-speed Internet access to underserved areas before the end of its mandate. Just over 10,000 remote homes will be connected by the American company's service.

Starlink's low-earth orbit satellites, operated by SpaceX, were the best technological solution to connect the households most difficult to reach by fibre optics, said Gilles Belanger, the parliamentary assistant to the premier for high-speed Internet, at a press conference in Sherbrooke on Monday.

Because of their geographical remoteness, some homes can't be connected to a fibre optic network, he added.

"The only solution to connect these orphaned households is the SpaceX solution. I'm not linking to Elon Musk, I'm linking to the technology solution, which is the most advanced," he said. 

If fibre optics was prioritized where possible, homes that will be connected to high-speed Internet via satellite will have just as good a connection, Bélanger said. Starlink will be able to offer 100 megabits (Mbps) of download speed, while a connection is considered high-speed at 50 Mbps or more.0

"Often, people will confuse the old high-orbit satellite with the new low-orbit satellite. There will be no problem in terms of quality of internet service."

Quebec is, therefore, providing $50 million in funding for the deployment of Starlink's satellite transmission service. The government hopes to have 10,200 homes south of the 57th parallel connected by Sept. 30, 2022.

A $9.5-million subsidy will also be granted to the targeted households to cover the full cost of acquiring the necessary equipment.

The awarding of the contract to an American company raises questions for leader of the Official Opposition, Dominique Anglade, who said in a press briefing that she had not had the opportunity to learn all the details of the agreement.

"I would have preferred that we deal with people who are here in Quebec. To understand the need to do business with this company when we have some here in Quebec, that is the first question I would have asked the government," she said. 

Stéphane Le Bouyonnec, Associate Secretary General of the Conseil exécutif du Québec, replied that local companies would have been given priority where possible: "We gave everything we could to Quebec and Canadian companies. The big players, but also the smaller players."

A RACE BEFORE THE ELECTION

The Legault government also expects to have reached its goal of providing high-speed Internet access to 250,000 households by the end of September, before the end of its mandate. This figure includes the 10,000 households that will be connected by Starlink

These households will need to have access to a connection of at least 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload, with unlimited data transfer capacity.

Bélanger would have liked to launch the Starlink deal a little earlier, but the conflict in Ukraine forced him to delay his plans by a few months, he said. The U.S. company left capacity for the Ukrainian government, which needed the satellites to defend itself against the Russian invasion. 

"I think it was a good move on our part to delay a few months," he said.

The province also announced Monday the unveiling of an interactive map that will monitor the deployment of high-speed Internet across Quebec. The map will allow users to track the connection status for an address, a municipality, or a region.

Quebec had budgeted $1.3 billion to accelerate the connection of remote areas.

In a press briefing, Le Bouyonnec said that about $1.1 billion has been committed, including Monday's announcement. The federal government has contributed about $470 million of that funding, bringing Quebec's share to about $610 million.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 9, 2022. 

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