FCC Commissioner: “Musk reversal is curious”
August 26, 2022
Brendan Carr, an FCC Commissioner, has come out with a strongly worded statement saying that the FCC was wrong to reverse its former granting of Elon Musk’s $886 million infrastructure award. The cash reflected SpaceX’s bid for part of the FCC’s massive $20.4 billion rural broadband subsidy scheme.
Musk’s bid stated SpaceX would provide broadband by its Starlink service to 642,925 rural and underserved customers across 35 US states.
Carr said he was surprised by the FCC decision which he described as a “curious outcome” and “plainly exceeds agency authority”. Carr, a Republican member of the FCC team, states that the FCC made its decision without a vote or authorisation from the agency’s Commissioners. He says that matching the lost Starlink coverage will cost the government around $3 billion.
“First, the FCC’s announcement claims that the agency is acting to ‘avoid extensive delays in providing needed service to rural areas.’ Yet that is exactly the outcome that this decision ensures. The FCC’s 2020 award to Starlink secured a commitment for the delivery of high-speed Internet service to 642,925 unserved rural homes and businesses across 35 states. By reversing course, the FCC has just chosen to vaporise that commitment and replace it with nothing. That’s a decision to leave families waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide when we have the technology to get them high-speed service today,” he stated on August 24th.
“Second, the agency decision casts aspersion on the Starlink system in turning heel on the Commission’s 2020 award – calling the technology “risky” and “still developing.” But those arguments do not bear out. To start, the one set of speed test data the FCC cites shows that Starlink’s speeds have increased significantly year over year, not decreased over that time period. And in any event, the relevant speed benchmarks that the full Commission imposed in 2020 on Starlink and all other infrastructure award winners do not kick in for another three years. Particularly given the speeds Starlink is already offering and the pace with which it is continuing to launch satellites, the FCC’s decision offers no reasoned basis for determining that Starlink was incapable of meeting its regulatory obligations. In fact, Starlink is already exceeding those benchmark speeds in other countries where their services are online. Indeed, the skepticism the FCC expresses here is odd because it is in direct conflict with the confidence expressed by other components of the federal government—including the Air Force, which just inked a nearly $2 million deal with Starlink to deliver high-speed Internet service to military bases. In the end, this action reads as an untimely and improper effort to revisit the full Commission’s 2020 decision to allow satellite providers to compete for awards, rather than the limited review authorised.”
Carr said that the FCC’s reversal decision will hit taxpayers, commenting: “To the extent the federal government ever makes another commitment to serve these communities, it will cost us orders of magnitude more money to do so. Indeed, while the Commission’s 2020 award secured a deal to bring high-speed service to all of these areas for $885 million in support, extending high-speed fibre lines to these same areas will likely cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 billion based on past bidding patterns and analysis – more once you start accounting for inflation.”
Carr argued that the FCC should change its mind, adding: “We should correct course, adopt a technology neutral approach, and in doing so ensure that we prioritise the needs of Americans that remain unserved today.”