SpaceX FCC Broadband Dispute Against Dish, Michael Dell Affiliate Gets Worse

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talking about the Starlink project at the MWC Hybrid Keynote during the second day of Mobile World Congress on June 29, 2021 in Barcelona, ​​Spain.

Nurfoto | Nurfoto | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Tuesday escalated a battle over broadband regulations with Dish Network and an affiliate of billionaire Michael Dell, urging the FCC to resolve lingering disputes over broadband usage that could interfere with its Starlink satellite internet network.

At the heart of the dispute is the use of the 12 gigahertz band, a frequency band used for broadband communications, and the frequency’s ability to support terrestrial and space services.

In January 2021, the Federal Communications Commission issued a notice asking for comments on how best to use the 12 gigahertz band. Dish and RS Access, funded by the Dell investment firm, have published studies arguing that terrestrial 5G networks could share the frequency with low-Earth-orbit satellite networks such as Starlink or OneWeb.

SpaceX presented its analysis of the Dish and RS Access studies on Tuesday, claiming it needed to correct what it called “some of the more egregious assumptions” in the reports, arguing that Starlink users would see interference to the point of causing service interruptions to customers “74% of the time.”

Musk’s company asked the FCC “to investigate whether DISH and RS Access submitted reports that are intentionally misleading”, noting that the studies did not match Dish’s findings two years earlier, which considered the use of sharing “unfeasible”.

A Dish spokesperson told CNBC that the company’s “expert engineers are evaluating SpaceX’s claims in the filing.”

SpaceX is not alone in opposing a potential expansion of 12 gigahertz usage. Telecommunications companies such as AT&T, tech giants Google and Microsoft, as well as satellite network operators such as Intelsat, OneWeb and SES have all sent comments to the federal agency against the move.

Senior SpaceX representatives told CNBC that the company hopes its analysis will convince the FCC to see that a ruling in favor of Dish and RS Access poses an existential threat to the company’s Starlink network.

“Leaving the process open simply cannot be justified on political or technical grounds. ,” wrote SpaceX Senior Director of Satellite Policy David Goldman in a letter to the FCC on Tuesday.

SpaceX has launched around 2,700 Starlink satellites into orbit to date, with nearly 500,000 users, and its manufacturing line is producing around 30,000 satellite dishes a week.

The FCC declined CNBC’s request for comment when it expects to issue a ruling on the 12 gigahertz band.

Spectrum rights

Dish Networks exhibit at CES 2016 in Las Vegas.

Justin Solomon | CNBC

Dish and RS Access lead a coalition of companies that hold FCC terrestrial licenses in the 12 gigahertz band, with the pair of entities representing the two largest holders of that spectrum band. While Dish is best known for providing satellite television services, the company has acquired broad swaths of spectrum.

For years, Dish claimed that it would make use of its valuable spectrum rights. Recently, with the FCC deadline looming, Dish launched its “Project Genesis” network of 5G service, which the company says fulfills a government requirement to provide service to more than 20% of the US population. Whether Dish’s network actually hits that limit is a matter of dispute, according to The Verge’s service test.

“DISH has never delivered on its repeated promises to deploy a new terrestrial network using the exclusive licenses already stored in their warehouses – the Commission simply cannot offer more spectrum to any operator with this history of broken promises and idle consumers,” Goldman wrote in the letter. from SpaceX to the FCC.

Dish did not immediately comment on the Project Genesis network in response to CNBC.

Dish has faced FCC repercussions over spectrum rights before. In an unrelated decision by the US Court of Appeals on Tuesday, a federal judge upheld an FCC ruling that Dish had “de facto control” over two other companies, Bloomberg reported. The deal violated spectrum auction rules by acquiring $3.3 billion in bidding credits aimed at small businesses, according to the report.

Read SpaceX’s letter to the FCC here.

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