The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) argues that near-Earth communications satellite projects such as SpaceX Starlink cannot meet the agency’s subsidy requirements for rural broadband services on delays. That means Elon Musk needs to convince the FCC within a month and prove he is capable of participating in the upcoming auction. In a report released last week, the agency detailed the phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which opens in October.
Media reported that while the FCC allows low-Earth orbit communications satellite companies to apply for funding from “low-delaybroadband providers,” the agency has serious doubts that they will be able to meet delays of less than 100ms.
SpaceX announced that it has launched about 500 satellites in orbit and completed the in-orbit deployment of 58 Starlink satellites over the weekend. But so far, Starlink has not officially opened commercial.
Even so, SpaceX claims its technology meets the FCC’s delay. In a May 29 letter to the FCC, SpaceX spoke by phone with FCC employees to explain its ability to keep delays within the 100ms threshold, even in unrealistic worst-case scenarios.
The company plans to offer limited access to the northern U.S. and Canada later this year and expand Starlink’s Internet to the world in 2021. SpaceX’s timing is still tight just to catch up with the first round of subsidies.
It is reported that the $20.4 billion fund will be offered in two stages in the form of a reverse auction. The first phase, which will begin in October, will be used primarily to allocate $16 billion to areas in the United States that do not yet have broadband services.
Companies must file an auction application by July 15, and SpaceX has only one month to convince the FCC. The agency initially approved SpaceX’s plan to provide global satellite broadband services by 2018.
The goal is to provide low-delay Internet access to rural and remote areas with little Internet access, and to increase broadband rates and coverage in those areas, ultimately securing broadband coverage worldwide with a large cluster of 12,000 satellites.
What the FCC is most concerned about, however, is that satellite communications companies can’t keep the delay within acceptable limits. The so-called delay refers to the time spent transmitting signal data between two points, which is very important to real-time business applications such as voice and video calls.
Higher latency will result in end users being wasted waiting for video streaming buffering, as are satellite Internet service providers such as Viasat and HughesNet.
Because signals and data must travel back and forth over an ultra-long distance, these services often have very high delays. The FCC said in its report that it would not even consider the participation of medium- and high-orbit satellite broadband service providers in the auction.