Traditional Internet Providers Say SpaceX’s Starlink Stinks, Beginning a New Battle

The FCC recently awarded SpaceX a $885.51 million contract to build out Starlink.

SpaceX’s Starlink aims to achieve global service coverage by 2021. NASA

SpaceX is launching and deploying Starlink satellites at record speed. And on Tuesday, the Elon Musk-led company began accepting pre-orders for constellation-based broadband internet service, a testament to the company’s confidence in fully commercializing the service in the next year or two.

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Starlink is a formidable threat to traditional internet service providers (ISP), which rely on cable, DSL or optic fiber. Groups representing these companies are seeking to slow down Starlink’s expansion and blocking SpaceX from receiving nearly $1 billion from the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to build out the service. 

In a study presented before the FCC this week, the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association argued that the speed of internet provided by Starlink constellation will be far too slow to meet the objective set under the RDOF.

The RDOF recently awarded SpaceX a ten-year contract worth $885.51 million to bring Starlink service to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in 35 states.

The business consulting firm Cartesian, commissioned by the FBA and the NTCA to conduct an engineering analysis of Starlink, concluded in the study that Starlink would hit a capacity shortfall in 2028.

The firm estimates that 56 percent of SpaceX’s RDOF locations in the low-capacity case (average bandwidth usage of 15.3 Mbps per location) and 57 percent of locations in the high-capacity case (average bandwidth usage of 20.8 Mbps per customer) will “experience service degradation during peak times and not meet the RDOF public interest requirements,” the FBA and the NTCA said in a letter to FCC on Monday.

SpaceX hasn’t officially responded to FBA and NTCA’s letter to the FCC. The company said in a petition to the federal agency last week that “Starlink’s performance is not theoretical or experimental, adding that its beta service, which serves about 10,000 users in North America and the U.K., proves the company’s “technical maturity and inherent capacity to support high-throughput, low-latency broadband service to unserved or underserved communities in even the most remote and rural areas of the United States.”

Traditional Internet Providers Say SpaceX’s Starlink Stinks, Beginning a New Battle