RALEIGH – Elon Musk’s fledgling high-speed internet service Starlink will be working with students living on Ocracoke Island-Hyde County and in Swain County as part of a pilot program to utilize satellite-based broadband for remote learning.

The $264,000 project was announced Thursday by Gov. Roy Cooper.

School districts can test the service as an option for distance learning in areas where there is no broadband or what the state calls “reliable” cellular service.

Some 5% of households in North Carolina – more than 200,000 – have no broadband access, according to state statistics.

In a separate program, Starlink has secured $17.4 million from the FCC to make broadband available to nearly 20,000 households and locations across the state.

Federal funds from the COVID-19 relief bill known as the CARES Act will underwrite the cost of the pilot program. The North Carolina Department of Information Technology Broadband Infrastructure Office and the Friday Institute at NC State University and several state organizations are involved as well in the project known as the “Satellite Internet Technologies for Student Connectivity Pilot.”

Starlink, which is part of Musk’s SpaceX company, is working with some residents in North Carolina to test the service.

The state’s broadband office says it has determined that Starlink “could be a viable option to reach residents in remote areas.”

The service is being rolled out nationally and promises download speeds of 300 megabits per second at a price of $100 plus equipment costs.

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“High-speed internet is a critical tool that our students need to succeed in these challenging times and into the future,” Cooper said in a statement. “Innovative programs like this pilot with SpaceX can connect students and residents to high-quality, reliable internet service to help with remote learning, telehealth, job opportunities and more.”

Jeff Sural, director of the broadband office, added: “This pilot with SpaceX has the potential to help students on Ocracoke Island and in Swain Counties who, because of geographic barriers, have been unable to connect to high-speed internet and effectively participate in remote learning,” Jeff Sural, BIO Director, said. “We are looking forward to testing this emerging technology and evaluating its effectiveness for our residents.”

The Friday Institute will provide technical assistance for development and implementation of the program.