SpaceX Asks for Help in Battle Over Frequency Band

SpaceX is asking Starlink users to petition the FCC and Congress for support of the Internet satellite constellation in its battle against Dish Network. At stake is the 12-gigahertz band that Starlink satellites transmit their data at and Dish Network wants to use for its 5G mobile data service.

It sent out emails to Starlink users with a link to a page titled “Don’t Let DISH Disable Your Internet,” which includes draft petitions that users can send to the FCC and Congress.

CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz published the email on Twitter:

If two satellites operating at similar frequencies try to send radio signals to locations that are near one another, they can cancel one another out. If you’ve ever listened to the radio in your car while driving long-distance, you might have noticed a similar phenomenon when the signal of one radio station fades and another station operating at the same or a neighboring frequency starts cutting in.

As usual when Starlink is involved in a dispute between SpaceX and another company, the FCC is playing referee in the fight between SpaceX and Dish Network. Dish has petitioned the FCC to allow it to use the 12-gigahertz band for 5G services.

The FCC had proposed using the 12.2 to 12.7 gigahertz frequencies for mobile services. The proposal claims that it will take measures to protect incumbents from interference while using the 12-gigahertz band.

However, SpaceX claims that allowing Dish Network to operate within the proposed frequencies will interfere with Starlink’s ability to deliver a reliable signal at the 12.2 to 12.7 gigahertz frequencies more than 77% of the time – thus negating its selling point as a “better than nothing” Internet service. This claim is based on a commissioned study on the impact of “harmful interference from terrestrial mobile service to SpaceX’s Starlink broadband terminals.”

SpaceX accuses Dish Network of misleading the FCC on its operations’ impact on devices that can transmit or receive radio signals in the 12-gigahertz band. It says that Dish Network’s desire to co-opt frequencies in this band could pose an existential risk to Starlink.

It could also become a problem for people who do not have many good options for Internet services. Many of Starlink’s customers live in sparsely populated or low-income areas where there hasn’t been much investment in Internet infrastructure.

On June 21, SpaceX filed an analysis of Dish Network’s claims about its ability to operate in the 12-Gigahertz band without interfering with other services. It alleges that Dish Network is intentionally misleading the FCC and called on the FCC to investigate discrepancies between Dish Network’s most recent report and a previous report in which Dish Network said that sharing this band was “not viable.”

In this case, SpaceX isn’t alone in opposing the FCC’s proposed rule change. Google, AT&T, Microsoft, Intelsat, OneWeb, and SES also filed comments opposing the rule change during the FCC’s open comment period.

In SpaceX senior director of satellite policy David Goldman’s comment he told the FCC that “leaving the proceeding open any longer simply cannot be justified for policy or technical reasons” and that satellite operators have to waste a lot of time responding to “frivolous arguments” from Dish Network.

The FCC hasn’t responded to requests for comment. Dish Network says that it is reviewing objections from SpaceX and the other big companies that filed objections during the FCC’s comment period.