In the latest RDOF skirmish, Dish is arguing that SpaceX should not be allowed to gain ETC status, a requirement for RDOF winners. Dish’s argument is based on potential interference from SpaceX’s use of the 12 GHz spectrum band for the satellite broadband service it is deploying — the service that enabled SpaceX to win close to $1 billion through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program.
Both companies utilize the spectrum, but use it for different purposes. Dish uses a traditional geostationary orbit approach for video delivery, while SpaceX uses a non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) approach for broadband that requires many more satellites, but which should provide lower latency.
SpaceX was one of the biggest winners in the RDOF program, which used a reverse auction to award funding to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to unserved rural areas. Funding went to the bidder that committed to serving an area for the lowest level of support.
Dish Vs. SpaceX
According to Dish, SpaceX has applied for authority to “substantially modify” its NGSO system.
“SpaceX wants to fly its satellites at less than half the altitude (540 km to 570 km) and transmit to the U.S. at close to half the elevation angle,” says a Dish filing with the FCC. “This is problematic for the 12 GHz band because NGSO users can only operate in that band on a basis of not causing harmful interference into direct broadcast satellite systems, including the 13 geostationary DBS satellites owned or leased by Dish. But as demonstrated by a study recently commissioned by Dish using SpaceX’s own data, this proposed modification could imperil DBS transmissions in the 12 GHz band.”
Dish also argues that SpaceX can’t credibly claim that it will have sufficient access to the 12 GHz band for 10 years as required by the RDOF rules because the FCC is considering the possibility of allowing shared use of the band.
Finally, Dish argues that SpaceX may be able to meet RDOF requirements without relying on the 12 GHz band because the company has many other spectrum holdings.
In its own filing with the FCC, SpaceX called Dish’s filing “facially spurious.”
According to SpaceX, the application to modify plans for its satellites was filed months before the FCC adopted procedures for the auction, meaning that the commission was well aware of SpaceX’s pending application when it adopted procedures for the auction. Those procedures allowed SpaceX to submit bids based on using the 12 GHz band and multiple other bands for its satellites.
SpaceX also noted that as the FCC considers modification to its rules for the 12 GHz band, there would be a requirement not to interfere with existing operations, which would include SpaceX’s service – not the other way around.
Dish’s real purpose, according to SpaceX, is “to obstruct the ETC designation and RDOF processes as part of DISH’s larger efforts to hamstring a competitor and to commandeer valuable spectrum already being used to serve American homes and businesses.”
Although the 12 GHz band is currently restricted to one-way use, Dish has petitioned the FCC to allow it to be used for two-way use, potentially supporting fixed wireless or the mobile service that Dish has committed to deploy – a proposal that SpaceX opposes.