SpaceX Tells FCC to Dismiss Claims That Starlink Will Underperform
26 Apr 2021
SpaceX is telling the FCC to ignore the haters. The company’s satellite internet service, Starlink, will reach its goals, despite doubts from competitors and trade groups.
Last week, SpaceX submitted a filing to the FCC dismissing criticism and third-party analyses that claim Starlink is bound to underperform. “The authors of these documents do not understand Starlink’s technology, how the network operates, or any future plans. The end results are deeply flawed analyses that in no way reflect the actual capacity of the Starlink network,” wrote David Goldman, Director of Satellite Policy.
SpaceX sent the filing as it seeks to finalize receipt of $866 million in funding from the FCC to improve rural broadband. The company is promising to supply high-speed internet to 642,925 locations in 35 states.
Already, Starlink is receiving applause for supplying 80Mbps or higher internet speeds to thousands of residents in underserved, rural areas across the US and Canada. However, a big question is how Starlink will perform over time.
SpaceX’s goal is to eventually upgrade the download speeds to 1Gbps and then 10Gbps. But in recent months, the FCC has received comments from trade groups and competitors critical of how Starlink will perform once more people sign on to use the network. For example, satellite internet provider Viasat sent its own analysis earlier this month, which claims SpaceX will fail to deliver consistent bandwidth, even with over 4,408 Starlink satellites in orbit. (Currently, SpaceX has over 1,300 satellites in orbit.)
The Viasat report, which cites Starlink speed data from users made over TestMy.net. (Credit: Viasat)
Another group, known as the The Ensuring RDOF Integrity Coalition (ERIC), also claims Starlink will eventually reach a “capacity shortfall,” citing a third-party report sponsored by broadband associations. As a result, the same parties are calling on the FCC to hit pause on awarding the federal funding to SpaceX until concerns can be addressed.
In response, SpaceX’s Goldman says the objections are a veiled attempt to limit competition in the internet market. "Although ERIC’s membership and funding are clouded in secrecy and remain undisclosed, this so-called coalition essentially repackages filings made by Starlink’s would-be competitors, such as Dish Network Corporation, in other proceedings," he alleged. (Dish denies any involvement with ERIC.)
According to Goldman, critics of Starlink assume the company’s technology will remain “frozen in time," but they're wrong. “They fail to account for newer generations of customer premises equipment, software, or satellites. These improvements are not theoretical or in the far-off future —they have either already been introduced or are in the process of introduction,” he wrote.
Such technology upgrades also mean introducing more powerful satellites, capable of higher capacity. “By replacing our satellite fleet at a regular cadence, Starlink is able to rapidly introduce new technology into our constellation, bringing ever-increasing amounts of network bandwidth to our customers,” he added.
However, SpaceX doesn’t plan on revealing the key specs or processes behind the technology through any public FCC filings, citing the threat of rivals learning company trade secrets.
“The Commission designated responsibility to the FCC staff—not Starlink’s competitors—to evaluate whether an applicant is reasonably capable of meeting its RDOF requirements in accordance with winning bids. And the FCC staff—not Starlink’s competitors—have all of the information they need to perform the technical and financial review required to make that determination,” Goldman added.