Elon Musk has stepped up to return internet connectivity to besieged parts of Ukraine and all it took was a Twitter challenge.
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice prime minister as well as minister of digital transformation, tweeted: “While you try to colonize Mars, Russia is trying to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space, Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civilians.”
Fedorov then asked Musk to give his country Starlink satellites to allow defenders to communicate with the outside world and “address sane Russians to stand.”
In response, Musk tweeted just ten hours later that “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine with more terminals en route.”
How’s that for good old American capitalism coming to the rescue? And Musk is providing the service for free.
Starlink is a space-based Internet with over 2,000 satellites in low orbit, approximately 340 miles high and developed for global broadband connectivity. It is already up and running in some areas.
The Internet has played a massive role in getting information and in some cases, disinformation from Ukraine as it defends itself from Russian attackers. Officials report intermittent outages in the country but say the web is still generally available. However, Internet monitors reported over the weekend that service in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, which the fighting has hardest hit, has been particularly affected.
Connectivity to Ukraine’s central Internet provider is below 20% of normal levels in some areas of the war-torn country.
As more information emerges from Ukraine about its Internet services, reports now say several cities have been affected, including the capital Kyiv, Mariupol and Kharkiv, according to NetBlocks. This company measures global Internet connectivity. Several reports also confirm intensive cyberattacks on the Ukrainian government and citizens.
Musk’s Starlink service has the advantage of not relying on traditional infrastructure and can be implemented quickly in tough-to-reach areas in disaster situations. After the enormous underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean in January, Starlink was used to reconnect internet service to remote areas as rescue efforts attempted to assess the damage.
Proponents of satellite “constellations” for service also hail its lack of vulnerability to military action. However, some observers also note that the Starlink system is more adept at providing wireless access in the countryside. It requires a “line of sight” connection with the satellites, which may prove difficult in urban settings.