Hoh Tribe gains satellite internet

Beta test increases speeds by 60 mbps

FORKS — After having internet speeds that were “just better than 1990s dial-up phone connection,” the Hoh Tribe has gained high-speed internet on its land through a satellite connection, tribal officials said.

With download speeds up to 60 megabits per second (mpbs), the reservation — which is located at the mouth of the Hoh River, 30 miles south of Forks — now has one of the fastest internet connections on the North Olympic Peninsula.

“This puts our government on equal footing with others right now,” said Melvinjohn Ashue, vice chairman of the Hoh Tribe, in a press release.

The new internet system is a beta test by Starlink, a division of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, that has 760 satellites and counting in orbit that provide internet connection to users.

On its website, Starlink says the satellites bring a “performance that far surpasses that of traditional satellite internet,” and that it will “deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive or completely unavailable.”

Installation was quick and easy on the ground for residents, Ashue said.

“It’s pretty astonishing, really,” he said. “The Starlink folks had me install it at our administrative center while they watched, and it was five minutes from out of the box to 60 mb a second of download speed.”

Prior to Starlink, the tribe had to shut down all other office computers for up to three days to allow the accounting department to update software, Ashue said.

Download speeds were less than 1 mb a second. Students were unable to participate in Zoom classes or online learning.

Most tribal homes had never updated the software on their tablets or game systems. Video chat of any kind was impossible, Ashue said.

The tribe initially worked with the state Department of Commerce to bring high-speed internet to the reservation in light of COVID-19 and the need for telemedicine and at-home learning for students.

The department connected them with SpaceX and Starlink.

The Hoh tribal council decided to petition to join Starlink’s internet beta test since “the worst thing that could happen is we would get better internet,” Ashue said.

After an interview with the tribal council, Starlink sent representatives out twice — the first time to install the basic equipment and the second on the day the tribe signed up homeowners.

“We are the kinds of locations they had in mind,” Ashue said. “You don’t need infrastructure. There is no digging miles of trench to get a link here.

“You have a router box that takes the signal from the small satellite dish set up on the reservation, and it’s either Wi-Fi or hard-wire from there to your computer and other devices. We are thankful that Starlink went out on a limb for us.”

The tribe also is continuing an effort to become its own internet service provider as a long-term solution to provide backup systems, which includes infrastructure built from the reservation to the Grays Harbor Public Utility District connection, Ashue said.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].

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