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Elon Musk’s SpaceX has gotten the green light from the Canadian government to start beaming high-speed internet to remote parts of the country from its constellation of low-Earth-orbit satellites.

Ottawa announced the regulatory approval on Twitter Friday, saying that SpaceX “is joining the effort to help get Canadians connected to high-speed internet.”

The decision means that SpaceX will be permitted to operate its Starlink constellation and user terminals – half-metre-wide circular antennas that attach to customers' homes – in Canada. (The company has already begun beta testing the service in the United States.)

Starlink has been approved to use spectrum - airwaves that transmit wireless signals - in the 10.7-12.7 gigahertz (GHz) bands for downlink and in the 14.0-14.5 GHz bands for uplink.

Proponents of the low-Earth-orbit, or “LEO,” industry say the technology could help bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas. Those living in rural or remote parts of the country typically pay more for slower, less-reliable connections, a problem that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as workplaces, schools and even health care services have moved online.

“Our government recognizes that high-speed internet access is no longer a luxury – it is essential,” John Power, a spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how much we all rely on digital connections.”

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The website for Starlink, the company’s satellite internet startup, says it plans to start offering services in Canada and the northern U.S. in 2020, “rapidly expanding to near global coverage of the populated world by 2021.”

The Tesla Inc. founder has launched more than 800 satellites into orbit, but he faces competition in the race to deliver high-speed broadband to hard-to-reach areas.

Among SpaceX’s rivals are Ottawa-based Telesat, Britain-based OneWeb and tech giant, which is planning a 3,236-satellite constellation called Project Kuiper. All four projects have already been approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to operate LEO constellations.

SpaceX is planning to launch a total of 12,000 satellites and has pegged the cost of the project at roughly US$10-billion.

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