FCC Rejects Starlink’s $900 mn Rural Broadband Funding Bid

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has upheld its decision to reject Starlink’s long-form application for public support under the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program. This decision was based on Starlink’s failure to meet the program’s requirements aimed at expanding broadband access in rural regions.
Download speed of Starlink in US Ookla reportFCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel emphasized the FCC’s commitment to ensuring widespread access to reliable and affordable high-speed broadband while responsibly managing limited public funds earmarked for rural broadband expansion. The denial, totaling nearly $900 million in universal service funds over nearly a decade, followed a meticulous review process focusing on legal, technical, and policy aspects.

The RDOF program operates through a two-step process. Initially, applicants submit a high-level, short-form funding application, which doesn’t mandate specific service area determinations. Successful bidders then proceed to a detailed, long-form application stage to confirm compliance with program requirements based on specific coverage locations.

Although Starlink qualified in the short-form stage, the FCC found deficiencies during the long-form review, highlighting an inability to demonstrate the delivery of the promised service. Consequently, the Commission concluded that allocating funds for Starlink’s extensive proposed networks wouldn’t optimize the limited Universal Service Fund dollars designated for expanding broadband in unserved U.S. areas.

In the auction results unveiled on December 7, 2020, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (Starlink) emerged as the winning bidder, securing $885,509,638.40.

The RDOF program, authorized with over $6 billion in funding, aimed to deploy primarily fiber gigabit broadband services to more than 3,458,000 locations across 49 states and the Northern Mariana Islands. The program has seen hundreds of carriers establish advanced networks, connecting previously underserved areas.

Meanwhile, Ookla recently said Starlink median download performance in the U.S. was 64.54 Mbps in Q3 2023, a marginal decline quarter on quarter, though Starlink did show strong increases in September, October, and November.