Office of the Superintendent

December 14, 2020

Wise County Public Schools becomes first school district in Virginia to utilize space-based internet to connect students.

Wise County Va. – Wise County Public Schools, in collaboration with the Wise County Board of Supervisors, is proud to launch an innovative new project with SpaceX to expand internet access in Wise County. Wise County is the first school district in Virginia to utilize SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet constellation to connect Wise County students with high-speed, low latency broadband.

The project will initially provide free internet service to 45 families of Wise County. The school district will identify the families and facilitate delivery of the necessary equipment to those homes. The service will be active early in 2021. As the network capabilities continue to grow, it will expand to serve an additional 90 Wise County families.

“This innovative partnership represents the opportunity for our county to provide internet access to the unserved or underserved families in our county and is unprecedented action for our school district and our community,” said Wise County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Greg Mullins. “The Covid-19 pandemic created a situation in which our district had to quickly pivot to virtual instruction last March and it was apparent that the lack of broadband access is a crisis in Wise County. With SpaceX, Wise County Administrator, Mr. Mike Hatfield, and the Wise County Board of Supervisors, we are providing space-based internet service to students and families that have few, if any, options. We are appreciative of Mr. Jack Kennedy who worked closely with Senator Mark Warner’s office to pull all of the pieces together and will allow us share our goal for providing equity and access for all students. Today, we are moving closer in closing the digital divide that exists within our community.”

When COVID-19 forced the closure of school buildings last spring, it really brought to the forefront just how large the digital divide is in Wise County. As WCPS completed surveys of teachers, students and their families, they found some 40% of families have limited to no internet access. The SpaceX Starlink satellite technology will provide high-speed, low-latency broadband internet to a county where that type of access is not currently available or affordable.

“It is our goal in Wise County to work with the school board in creating some of the most innovative plans in the country to meet the challenges of the pandemic and redesign our schools for 21st-century learning,” Said Wise County Administrator, Mike Hatfield.” Given WCPS desire to continue the move toward technology-based learning, it’s only natural that he would partner with SpaceX and use satellites to get students the home Wi-Fi they wouldn’t otherwise have. We are proud of the partnership that the Wise County Board of Supervisors and the Wise County

School Board share and are pleased to provide support for this and other internet connectivity projects in the district.”

A national call is being made for federal action to end the digital divide. Our state and national leaders like U.S. Senator Mark Warner have taken up the torch to push for ubiquitous broadband internet for all, using Wise County as a case study. This project with SpaceX is bringing together a unique combination of partners.

“Unfortunately, there are too many people who lack this access, particularly school children, and it’s critical that we support and facilitate opportunities like this to help make that access a reality throughout Wise County shared Dr. Mullins. We commend Mr. Hatfield and the Wise County Board of Supervisors, along with Dr. Scott Kiser and our technology department, for taking a leading role in addressing this challenge. We are hopeful this program will expand throughout Wise County and our region, and look forward to continuing our quest to provide this connectivity to all our citizens.” “We are thrilled to have this opportunity to work with committed partners like the Wise County BOS, as well as SpaceX and its next generation internet solution to provide service for our families,” said Dr. Mullins. “Closing the digital divide in our community is a key element in our technology department’s strategic plan. Wise County Public Schools is determined to lead this effort because we believe this is simply the right thing to do for our students.”

About SpaceX, Starlink

SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches the world’s most technologically advanced rockets and spacecraft for missions to Earth orbit and ultimately to carry humans to Mars and other destinations in the solar system. Earlier this year, SpaceX was the first commercial company in history to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station and return them safely back home to Earth. SpaceX is also working on Starlink, a space-based internet system to deliver high-speed broadband to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.

For more information about this release contact Wise County Public Schools Director of Technology, Dr. Scott Kiser – 276-328-8017 or Wise County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Greg Mullins.