Virginia state government adds Starlink satellite internet to service catalog

Virginia's state government may be the first to offer localities satellite internet service from SpaceX's Starlink.
SpaceX rocket
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with 22 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base on January 28, 2024 in Lompoc, California. (Kirby Lee / Getty Images)

Virginia Chief Information Officer Robert Osmond told StateScoop in a recent interview that in January he added satellite internet from Starlink to the state’s already expansive telecom services catalog.

Osmond said he first tried to make the addition about two years ago but was rejected by Starlink, the company owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX that uses low Earth orbit satellites to beam internet service to businesses and homes. The addition of Starlink, which Osmond said is a faster and more cost-effective choice for local government agencies and community centers in Virginia’s many rural areas, may be the first by a state government.

“Starlink pretty much said, ‘We’re not interested in signing any state contracts, it’s not worth our time.’ So they kind of gave us the stiff arm,” Osmond said. “It’s something we wanted to do for a while. What triggered this was I saw an article saying consumers could buy Starlink at Costco. I was telling my team: ‘If Costco can sell Starlink, why can’t we?’”

Starlink did not respond to requests for comment on its business strategy, but reports last week showed that the company has become profitable for the first time since it launched its first batch of satellites in 2019.


In addition to the firm’s recent cooperation, Virginia also needed to clear at least one technical hurdle. Osmond said the state’s software-defined networking setup now makes it possible to securely connect to Starlink.

Osmond said satellite technology has also improved in recent years, making it a more viable option for offices that don’t want the expense or wait time associated with trenching fiber optic cables to their buildings. He said Starlink costs just $5,000 to install per site and about $2,500 annually, a pittance compared to fiber installations that can cost as much as $500,000 and take years to complete.

“Construction can take a year to two years, especially if you’re in a very rocky area,” Osmond said of fiber installations. “We have a county called Rock County. There’s a lot of rock there. So you’re trenching with sticks of dynamite. We’re now identifying pilot agencies that want to add Starlink to their program. Particularly if you’re in a hard-to-reach area in Virginia, that’s really your best option.”

Two rural North Carolina counties in 2021 experimented with Starlink as a way to provide internet service to students. And technology officials in Nevada and Alaska have expressed interest in the technology. But when contacted for updates, none of the states were able to share new developments.

Osmond is the top official in the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, also called VITA, which offers various technology services to state government and public sector agencies throughout the state, from schools to local law enforcement offices. He estimated that about 80% of Virginia is rural communities and that while most state government offices have reliable internet connections, “it’s a different story” for many local governments.


“I see a great deal of opportunity,” he said, noting the popular news stories during the COVID-19 pandemic in which students used the parking lot Wi-Fi connections offered by some fast food restaurants to complete their homework. “In a way it breaks my heart because it’s so important to have access to information. A lot of information now is becoming purely digital. If you can’t access it, then you’re really missing out on a lot of life.”

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