FCC Communicates With SpaceX Regarding Clarified Use of Broadband Internet Development Funds

In response to complaints that may have been sparked by unclear rules in the FCC’s push for improved Internet access for regions that aren’t very well-connected, the FCC has sent communications to SpaceX and other companies that are working with the regulatory agencies on this project cannot be used for parking lots and other suburb areas that are already well-covered by existing Internet service.

The FCC launched a $9.2 billion initiative to develop broadband Internet infrastructure titled the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) last year. As the title implies, the project is meant to bring better broadband Internet to rural and low-income areas that lack affordable or reliable Internet access.

SpaceX was one of several companies that submitted a bid for the project and outlined plans to use its Starlink Internet satellite constellation to reach areas in the United States that have only limited options for Internet access.

In its communications with the companies involved in the project, the FCC offered a chance to rescind their requests to funding to cover areas that are already well-covered by existing services and infrastructure. This will allow for better allocation of funds to serve the areas that RDOF is meant to reach.

The $9.2 billion has been split between a total of 197 companies, with Starlink received $886 million in RDOF funds. However, in a complaint filed by the advocacy group Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), the lack of clarity in the FCC’s rules in using those funds would likely lead to “more of the same”: a considerable amount of redundant development in areas and places that are already well-covered while the rural and low-income areas that it is meant to help are ignored yet again.

“Pervasive errors in broadband data will soon send hundreds of millions of dollars of Federal broadband subsidies to areas of the country least in need of support,” the CCA said in May.

The organization Free Press reported that rougly $700 million of the $9.2 billion allocated for the RDOF project was being wasted on covering areas that it was not meant to target. SpaceX, for instance, was accused of using $111 million of its grant to reach well-developed suburban locations and random spots like highway medians that didn’t need Internet access. While the latter could, perhaps, be explained by SpaceX’s plans to bring the Internet to large vehicles like RVs and buses, it does not fill the RDOF’s purpose of bringing the Internet to less advantaged populations.

SpaceX’s continued work on bringing Starlink’s Internet service out of beta includes the launch of more satellites every two weeks. When its planned constellation of up to 42,000 satellites is complete, Starlink will be capable of bringing the Internet to nearly the entire human population. Most recently, it is working with the Cherokee Nation to bring Starlink Internet service to Cherokee Nation members who live on its reservation in Oklahoma.

SpaceX has not yet issued a statement on the FCC’s clarified rules for allocation of RDOF funds or the reports issued by advocacy groups like the Competitive Carriers Association and Free Press.