Starlink Internet is to be tested in 500 schools

Schools are among the Rwandan institutions set to be a priority to benefit from the satellite internet that is soon to be provided by Starlink, billionaire Elon Musk’s high-speed satellite internet company, Minister for ICT and Innovation Paula Ingabire said recently and pointed out that the initial plan is to test it in at least 500 schools.

According to the minister, Starlink’s service should be operational in Rwanda by February 22. Starlink is a satellite network developed by the American spacecraft company SpaceX to provide “cheap” internet to remote locations.

In early February, the Rwanda Space Agency (RSA) announced that it had licensed Starlink, the satellite internet constellation, to operate in the country, which is scheduled to begin operations in the first quarter of 2023, i.e. before the end of March.

Appearing before lawmakers during a plenary session of the Chamber of Deputies on February 7, Ingabire said the Internet capacity provided by Starlink is very high and relatively affordable than the services currently available in Rwanda.

She provided answers to questions affecting the ICT sector, including the fact that some primary and secondary schools do not have access to the internet, while a few that do have it are constrained by the high cost and cannot use it.

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“On the services we undertake, which we agreed with Starlink last year [2022]we will start with at least 500 schools so that at least one such internet is tested and distributed there,” she said.

Responding to lawmakers’ concerns about its affordability, Ingabire pointed out that businesses that require a lot of internet are under attack from Starlink internet pilots overall because of their massive capacity and high speed.

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Information from RSA indicates that Starlink’s services are expected to increase broadband competitiveness in the country, as end-user services will cost RWF 48,000 (one month) for up to 150 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth.

For companies, the bandwidth can be up to 350 Mbit/s.

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Ingabire said the capacity provided will be affordable for larger facilities such as healthcare facilities, a market where many people can benefit, schools or public bodies.

According to educators, fast and affordable internet is changing the way we live, work and learn. Among other things, it helps in learning and discovering different sources to get the latest information. Students also conduct relevant research to increase their knowledge and obtain necessary study materials that are vital to their academics.

Diana Nawatti, the principal of Mother Mary International School, a private school in Kigali, told The New Times: “As an international school with expensive hands-on resources that we can use in our classes, a fast, reliable connection gives learners access to more information with all educational materials with just one click.

“Students get first-hand information for free, and so does the school; this is more important for research, term papers and numerous other projects. With the resources available, learning is fun and meaningful thanks to a fast network.”

Starlink’s service comes as the government is also working to connect about 3,000 schools that aren’t connected to the internet by 2024 through funding from the China Exim Bank and the World Bank.

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There are currently 6,756 schools in the country consisting of primary, secondary and vocational schools. Of these, around 3,000 schools – which corresponds to 44.4 percent of the total number – are not connected to the Internet.