Wise County Circuit Court Clerk Jack Kennedy notes on his LinkedIn page that while his background is in law, public administration and political science, his passion is in aviation and space flight “and in helping advance the ideas of those visionary leaders who will create the future use of airspace and space for commercial purposes in ways we haven’t even thought yet.”
For instance, wireless high-speed internet access, just the latest of the many high-tech advances in which Kennedy has had a hand. For decades, he has put Wise County on the map in pursuit of his passion, “leading both scientific space and aerospace technology projects, and in building strategic partnerships with governments and private businesses alike,” as he puts it.
When Elon Musk’s SpaceX announced last year it was looking for beta testers for its Starlink system of wireless internet, Kennedy pounced, using his considerable contacts to bring it home. In December, Wise County announced it would be the first school district in Virginia and only the second in the nation to test SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet constellation for high-speed internet.
Starlink touts that it delivers internet access via a small satellite dish attached to your roof. Geostationary satellites can beam information to anyone, but the problem has been in talking back to them because they are more than 20,000 miles away. Starlink solves this with hundreds of satellites in low orbit, about 340 miles. Founded by Musk, now the world’s richest person, Starlink reports to communicate from 80 to 150 megabits per second to locations where internet access has been unreliable, or impossible.
Under the beta project, Starlink will provide free internet service initially to 45 Wise County families in the Coeburn area, and later this year, 90 families. Lack of broadband has always been a problem in the mountains of Southwest Virginia.
Kennedy was the first circuit court clerk in Virginia to put public records online. Five years ago, he was the brains behind the first package ever delivered by a drone in the nation, an event that was part of the annual Remote Area Medical clinic. Kennedy is a “visionary,” says Shannon Blevins, associate vice chancellor for economic development and engagement at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
Says Kennedy, “We can look to the 21st century and throw up our hands; I opt for a different approach. There’s certainly not going to be a huge market for steam coal; maybe for metallurgical coal if steel comes back. We’ve got to find new ways to be involved in the energy economy — that’s solar and wind. We’ve got to find ways to get young people involved in technology if we’re going to bring high-tech jobs to central Appalachia. We have all the pieces of the puzzle; it’s just a matter of putting them together.”
If anybody can do that, it’s Jack Kennedy.