Based in Boston, the internet provider Starry has launched a program to close that access gap. Called Starry Connect, the initiative equips the common areas, computer rooms, and hallways of the Boston Housing Authority’s Ausonia Apartments with free 5G internet for residents; more public housing developments, both in Boston and in other cities like Los Angeles, will come online soon through the program. And beginning this fall, Starry Connect will roll out in affordable housing developments managed by Related Properties, a developer that, in addition to a range of market-rate properties, owns around 45,000 units of affordable housing across the country. “Connectivity is a requirement at this point,” says CEO Chet Kanojia, but too many people are still locked out.

[Source Image: liuzishan/iStock]

Starry launched as a startup in 2016 with a simple premise: to use personalized tech to connect people with high-speed internet, without involving big utilities. “We really saw that there was a market imbalance in terms of internet access,” says Virginia Lam Abrams, Starry’s SVP of communications and government relations. “One, it’s expensive, and two, it’s a noncompetitive landscape, characterized by regional monopolies.” Most of the country–around 60%–does not have a choice as to which company provides their internet, and that, Abrams says, leads to inflated costs and diminished customer care. That in itself exacerbates the digital divide.

[Source Image: liuzishan/iStock]

So Starry set out to develop an internet network that skirts the traditional utility infrastructure, “and, most importantly, drives down the cost of connecting people and homes to the internet,” Abrams says. Most homes connect to the internet via a fiber optic cable system, which costs around $2,000 to install. Starry, instead, uses a hub-and-spoke style transmission system, in which a laser installed on top of a city building beams 5G into receptors, called Starry Points, that subscribers can install in their homes. Its standard internet service costs a flat monthly fee of $50 (Abrams says it costs Starry around $20 to bring a home online, so they’re making a profit off the service), and Starry Connect is either free or offered at a steep discount to affordable housing residents.

Wireless internet services that rely on the transmitter-receptor model are not new, but because they traditionally follow a point-to-point model, where a single transmitter beams service to a single receptor, they’re not scalable, Abrams says. Starry’s tech instead facilitates a point-to-multipoint system, in which a single transmitter, using laser technology, is able to serve dozens of homes. This, Abrams adds, makes it especially practical for dense urban areas like Boston, where it originally launched.

[Source Image: liuzishan/iStock]

It also represents a practical solution for closing the internet access gap for low-income people, around half of whom do not have an internet connection in their homes. In public housing developments especially, internet infrastructure is woefully lacking. Starry Connect’s primary focus in public housing developments like the Ausonia Apartments in Boston will be bringing common spaces online for free–the startup just closed a $100,000 funding round in July, so is equipped to do so. Because both the BHA and other housing authorities often do not have the capacity to manage or install internet systems themselves, the fact that Starry is taking care of both is also a bonus. In the weeks since the Ausonia Apartments have come online, the residents have been bringing their devices into common areas to make use of the Wi-Fi, and Starry is sourcing feedback from them as to what could be improved before expanding into other BHA properties, and public housing developments in other cities.

Through the partnership with Related Properties, they’ll also be making in-home Wi-Fi available to low-income residents–anyone receiving a housing subsidy–across the U.S. for less than $20 per month, steeply discounted from the standard $50 flat rate. Starry’s ultimate goal, Abrams says, is prioritize serving people who traditionally lack internet access over turning a massive profit. “We know what the numbers are like in terms of running a business, but we’re okay with having less of a profit margin on it if it means we can offer a quality product to people that need it,” she says.




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