To realize his dream of satellite-powered Internet, tech billionaire Elon Musk must install antennas around the world. In northern France, a village hopes to decide to keep the antennas far away.
Saint-Senier-de-Beuvron, population 350, is not so happy to have been chosen as a ground station for Musk’s Starlink space broadband project.
“This project is completely new. We have no idea about the effects of these signals, says Noemie Brault, a 34-year-old deputy mayor of the village, just 20 kilometers from the majestic monastery of Mont Saint-Michel on the English Channel.
“As a precautionary measure, the City Council said no,” she explained.
Musk, founder of SpaceX and electric car maker Tesla, plans to deploy thousands of satellites to provide high-speed internet to remote areas anywhere in the world.
It’s a high stakes battle he fights with billionaire Jeff Bezos from Amazon as well as the London-based start-up OneWeb.
Antennas on the ground will capture the signals and transmit them to individual user terminals connected via cable.
Starlink’s contractor had already secured French government approval to install nine “radomes” – three meters high (10 feet) globes that protect the antennas – in Saint-Senier, one of four sites planned for France.
In December, Saint-Senier issued a decree blocking construction on the site.
But the refusal was based on a technicality and the contractor, Sipartech, told AFP that it plans to withdraw its request, which the council is unlikely to be able to block.
“We are concerned that we do not have any data” on the possible effects of the signals on human or animal health, says Brault, himself a farmer.
“And when you hear he wants to implant a chip in people’s brains, it’s scary,” she said, referring to Musk’s Neuralink project.
François Dufour, a member of the Green and Retired Farmers, said he felt residents had cause for concern.
“The risks of electromagnetic waves are something we have already seen with high-voltage power lines, which have disturbed many farmers in the area,” he said.
In addition, “social networks, the internet, they already exist – why do we need to look for the internet on the moon?” he said.
France’s national radio frequency agency ANFR, which approved Starlink’s stations, says they do not pose a risk to residents, not least because they will be released straight into the sky.
There are already about 100 similar websites in France from the first satellite launches 50 years ago, it adds.
This has not convinced Jean-Marc Belloir, 57, who is worried that his cows will start producing less milk.
“At our farm we are always online. My cows are linked; my smart watch warns me when to calve, ”said Belloir. “But when you see the range of these antennas, it needs to be investigated” about the potential effects.
Still, he named his latest calf “SpaceX du Beuvron” and combined Musk’s company with the name of the stream that runs through his village.
“We are not attacking Elon Musk,” said Anne-Marie Falguieres, who lives just 60 meters from the future Starlink station with her husband and two children.
“We are not technophobes. I’m a guide on the bay, I have a website, my husband works from home. But these antennas are brand new, at least in France, and we want to know if they are dangerous or not, she said.
She also thinks that the project is hardly necessary and probably will not interest many, based on reports from the USA.
“In the test phase, they made you pay $ 500 for the dish and then you had to pay $ 100 a month for a subscription,” she said. “I do not think everyone will be able to pay for it.”