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Elon Musk speaks during a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 2, 2019. The satellite-internet division of Musk's SpaceX has applied for a CRTC licence.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has applied to Canada’s telecom regulator for a licence as it plans to start beaming high-speed internet to hard-to-reach parts of the country from its constellation of satellites.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp.‘s application for a Basic International Telecommunications Services (BITS) licence, which was posted on the telecom regulator’s website on May 20, has already garnered hundreds of responses, many of them from rural Canadians cheering on the initiative.

“My home has no reliable access to the internet,” wrote Daniel Doucette, a resident of 100 Mile House, a town in the South Cariboo region of central British Columbia. “This would be of great value to me.”

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The deadline for commenting on SpaceX’s BITS licence application with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is Friday, although it’s unclear how long it will take the regulator to decide on the matter.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment. But the website for Starlink, the rocket-launching company’s satellite internet startup, says it is aiming to start offering services in Canada and the northern United States in 2020 and expand to “near global coverage” by 2021.

The Tesla Inc. founder has sent hundreds of internet satellites into orbit amid growing competition in the race to deliver high-speed broadband to remote areas. Proponents of the low-Earth-orbit, or “LEO,” industry say it could help bridge the urban-rural digital divide.

Among Starlink’s rivals are OneWeb, a U.S. startup backed by Sprint Corp. owner SoftBank, and Ottawa-based Telesat Canada, which has secured $85-million in funding from the Canadian government. All three have approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to operate LEO constellations.

Samer Bishay, co-founder of Toronto-based satellite company Kepler Communications, says BITS licences aren’t necessary for internet providers that don’t offer voice-call services.

However, an LEO company may wish to get one to cover its bases in case its internet services are bundled with telephony services, such as voiceover IP, or other applications.

There are currently more than 1,200 comments posted about SpaceX’s application on the CRTC’s website, many of them from rural internet users expressing support for the project.

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Canadians living outside of major cities typically pay higher costs for slower internet connections, an issue that has come to the forefront as the global health crisis has forced Canadians to work, learn and entertain themselves at home.

The federal government has vowed to accelerate its investments in rural internet in response to the pandemic. Rural Economic Development Minister Maryam Monsef said earlier this month that the Universal Broadband Fund, which is expected to pay out up to $1-billion over 10 years to subsidize the cost of building networks in sparsely populated parts of the country, will start taking applications in the coming days.

Bennett Graham, a software developer living outside of Ottawa, said he pays $400 or more each month for high-speed internet that’s essential for him and his partner to do their jobs.

“Please approve!” Mr. Graham wrote to the CRTC regarding the SpaceX application.

Another respondent, the owner of Canyon Creek Campground and RV Park in Hixon, B.C., said the project could be a boon to the tourism industry and to RVers.

Ken Flack, a municipal councillor in Pointe-Fortune in southwestern Quebec, wrote that the community’s lack of high-speed internet has been a challenge, particularly for seniors isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“I encourage the CRTC to accelerate the acceptance of this application,” Mr. Flack wrote, adding that the proposed project “specifically benefits those most in need.”

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