SpaceX, the provider of Starlink low earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband, isn’t accepting the FCC’s decision to reject the company’s winning bid in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program without a fight. On Friday, the company filed an application for review with the FCC arguing that the decision was “flawed as a matter of both law and policy.”
The RDOF program used a reverse auction to award funding to make broadband available in unserved rural areas. Funding was tentatively awarded to the company that bid to provide service for the lowest level of support.
SpaceX was one of the top 10 winning bidders in the program and was slated to receive nearly $900 million in funding until the FCC rejected the company’s long-form application last month.
In rejecting the application, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said the company’s technology was still developing and expressed concern about the $600 price tag for the company’s satellite dish.
SpaceX argues in its application for review that the FCC misused data outside the record to penalize SpaceX for its current speeds, which are “irrelevant to whether SpaceX can meet RDOF’s speed requirements starting three years from now, as is actually required.”
SpaceX’s bid was based on providing service at speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream but third-party speed tests have shown that the service’s median speed does not meet that requirement, at least not yet.
The company also argues that it never claimed it would use its current pricing in the RDOF territories and noted that “indeed by law it cannot.” The company also noted that, unlike some companies, it uses “transparent all-in” pricing that has no hidden fees.
The FCC also “ignored robust record evidence of SpaceX’s proven ability to quickly expand and upgrade its network,” SpaceX says. According to the filing, the company has launched over 3,000 satellites to date and the satellites have operated with over 99% reliability since being licensed by the FCC in 2018.
According to the filing, no RDOF applicant offering fiber bid in the majority of territories that SpaceX committed to serve. Accordingly, the FCC’s decision to reject SpaceX leaves the commission with no plan to connect many unconnected Americans, SpaceX argues.
It’s worth noting, though, that although the FCC may be left with no plan to connect the areas where SpaceX was rejected, other rural broadband funding programs are poised to fill in the void. The NTIA Broadband Access Equity and Deployment (BEAD) program has $42.5 billion available for rural broadband funding, and the areas for which SpaceX has been rejected would be eligible for BEAD funding.
The SpaceX application for review is available at this link.