SpaceX appeals FCC rejection of rural broadband subsidies

SpaceX has challenged the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to deny $885.5 million in rural broadband subsidy to the space company’s satellite internet unit.
SpaceX Starlink satellite internet
The FCC last month rejected applications from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and LTD Broadband for funds that had been tentatively awarded in 2020 under the commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. SpaceX was poised to receive $885.5 million to beam satellite internet to U.S. regions with little to no internet connections.

“The decision appears to have been rendered in service to a clear bias towards fiber, rather than a merits-based decision to actually connect unserved Americans,” SpaceX’s senior director of satellite policy, David Goldman, wrote in an appeal filed.

The FCC declined to comment.

SpaceX’s Starlink, a fast-growing network of more than 3,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit, has tens of thousands of users in the U.S. so far, with consumers paying at least $599 for a user terminal and $110 a month for service.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel earlier said Starlink’s technology has real promise but that it could not meet the program’s requirements, citing data that showed a steady decline in speeds over the past year and casting the service’s price as too steep for consumers.

Jessica Rosenworcel said in August that “the question before us was whether to publicly subsidize their still developing technology for consumer broadband — which requires that users purchase a $600 dish — with nearly $900 million in universal service funds until 2032.”

To date, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program has authorized more than $5 billion in  funding to bring primarily fiber gigabit broadband service to over 3,000,000 locations in 47 states.

SpaceX under the program had sought to provide 100/20 Mbps service to 642,925 locations in 35 states. The company in its appeal said the FCC erroneously evaluated Starlink’s performance.

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr in a statement last month opposed the FCC’s decision and slammed the agency for rejecting the funds without a full commission vote.

“To be clear, this is a decision that tells families in states across the country that they should just keep waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide even though we have the technology to improve their lives now,” Brendan Carr said.