Chairwoman Romanado, Vice-Chairmen Cumming and Lemire and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology today on behalf of SpaceX and our Starlink broadband system. The committee’s hearing on accessibility and affordability of telecommunications services is timely and critically important.
As this committee is well aware, COVID-19 has brought into high relief the urgent need for universal, affordable high-speed broadband access. Even before the pandemic, though, Canada’s connectivity strategy noted that “rural and remote communities have identified challenges accessing affordable, high-speed Internet as the number one issue impeding their economic growth.”
With Starlink recently authorized by ISED to offer services throughout Canada, SpaceX looks forward to helping to close the digital divide in Canada, particularly in remote and rural areas that most suffer from broadband gaps.
By way of background, SpaceX today is the world’s largest launch services provider measured by missions under contract. We design, manufacture and launch our reusable Falcon launch vehicles and spacecraft for missions to earth orbit and ultimately beyond.
In this endeavour, SpaceX has had a long and productive partnership with Canada and Canadian industry. In June of last year, for example, SpaceX successfully lofted into orbit three RCM satellites built by MDA for the Canadian Space Agency’s RADARSAT constellation. In 2018, as Dan noted, SpaceX, over the course of two separate missions, launched Telesat’s Telstar 19 Vantage and 18 Vantage telecommunications satellites.
Perhaps most notably, in March 2019, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques became the first person to enter the Crew Dragon spacecraft while attached to the International Space Station, an important marker on the path to Crew-1, the first operational crew mission to the ISS that SpaceX successfully launched this past Sunday for our partner NASA and last night docked.
Given this history, SpaceX is proud to be embarking on another journey with Canada with Starlink, our next-generation space-based Internet system that will deliver high-speed broadband to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive or completely unavailable. SpaceX wishes to thank Minister Bains, Minister Monsef, the professional staff at ISED’s spectrum planning and engineering office, the CRTC, Global Affairs Canada, Natural Resources Canada and many others, including members of this committee, for working with us throughout the regulatory process.
We are putting our Canadian approvals to good use. Within a week of receiving our licences, SpaceX began shipping Starlink kits into Canada for our early customers, including indigenous communities, and we are starting our public beta rollout for Canadians as we speak.
Canadians are increasingly relying on the Internet. Statistics Canada shows that the share of Canadians age 15 and older using the Internet rose from 83% in 2012 to 91% in 2018. As consumer demands on speed and capacity continue to grow, however, disparities in access and competitive choice persist for many communities. Indeed, 60% of rural Canadian households lack access to broadband, defined as 50 megabits per second down and 10 megabits per second up.
As a result, the Canadian government has established a bold and historic commitment: to connect 98% of Canadians across the country to high-speed Internet within the next six years and all Canadians by 2030.
Importantly, the government focused its initiatives on several key areas, including rapid deployment to address broadband gaps during the pandemic; diversity in technology pathways, recognizing that no single solution will suffice to support all Canadians; scalability, to ensure networks can grow as demand and uses of the Internet change over time; affordability; and, network quality and resiliency, particularly in the rugged environments in the north.
SpaceX strongly supports these goals, and I therefore want to direct the remainder of my statement to discussing how Starlink aligns with them.
As an initial matter, Starlink is a technology ideally suited for Canada. The constellation of Starlink satellites flying close to the earth will reach across Canada’s vast territory, whether small rural communities, rugged mountains or craggy coastlines, where the cost to deploy more traditional solutions often inhibits a return on investment and consequently defers infrastructure build-out.
Even in its current beta phase, Starlink exceeds Canada’s requirements of 50/10 megabits per second per user. Our early beta testing in the United States is demonstrating speeds of over 100 megabits per second to individual households, with latencies of less than 40 milliseconds.
Even in remote locations Canadians will have access to broadband with the performance necessary for remote learning, teleworking, telehealth, video conferencing and even competitive gaming.
With nearly 900 Starlink satellites already in orbit, Starlink is able to provide service to large portions of Canada now, including parts of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
As we continue to launch satellites and with future regulatory approvals in Canada, Starlink will reach even higher latitudes in the other provinces and even in the north. Because Starlink consumer equipment involves a plug-and-play device, deployment speeds become a matter of shipping timelines. Therefore, Starlink certainly is rapidly deployable.
SpaceX is well known for continually iterating and improving our technology. For the Starlink system this means incremental innovation in both our satellites in space and the consumer equipment on the ground. This iterative approach to system design allows us to inject feedback and both improve performance and expand available capacity on an ongoing basis.
The feedback from our early beta testing in the U.S. and Canada will allow us to fine-tune the Starlink service offerings over time, and with the ongoing addition of more satellites, the system can scale as market demand grows and can adjust to the ever-evolving use of the Internet.
Since our first deployment 18 months ago, SpaceX has established a regular cadence of two Starlink launches, totalling 120 satellites per month, and set a record last month alone of deploying 180 Starlink satellites.
Finally, affordability is a key factor for SpaceX since Starlink is fundamentally optimized as a direct consumer service. SpaceX is designing the system from end to end with cost effectiveness and reliability in mind. As our services grow and we transition from low- to high-volume production, we remain focused on further lowering the cost.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this hearing. We're poised to offer reliable high-speed Starlink broadband to Canadians across the country.
I look forward to answering any questions you might have.