SpaceX and Amazon are sparring over a request that SpaceX made to the FCC on August 18 involving its Starlink non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellite offering. Amazon says the FCC should dismiss the proposal because it is incomplete, while SpaceX accuses Amazon of having anti-competitive motives.
The two companies are among several that are working on satellite broadband offerings using constellations of NGSO satellites designed to improve on the latency of traditional geostationary systems. SpaceX already has deployed some NGSO satellites and offers service on a limited basis.
SpaceX’s Request and Amazon’s Response
In an August 18 filing with the FCC, SpaceX said it has “found ways to leverage the advanced capabilities of its new launch vehicle . . . to better position satellites to meet changing consumer demand” and is exploring two possible system configurations to achieve that goal. According to SpaceX, the two-configuration approach is “similar to the approach allowed for network filings with the International Telecommunications Union.”
SpaceX says that “by providing complete information on both configurations now, SpaceX will enable the commission to evaluate both approaches even as development proceeds.”
When the timeline “becomes clear, SpaceX would notify the commission which of the two configurations it wishes to deploy.”
Amazon took issue with this proposal and a company representative called the FCC to talk about it – a phone call that was summarized in an August 25 letter to the commission.
“The commission’s rules require that SpaceX settle the details of its proposed amendment before filing its application – not after,” Amazon argues.
Quoting commission rules, Amazon argues that the SpaceX proposal is deficient “with respect to the completeness of answers to questions, informational showings, internal inconsistencies, execution, or other matters of a formal character.’”
Amazon goes on to argue that “forcing both the commission and interested parties to grapple with the interference concerns posed by two separate configurations doubles the technical effort of every operator faced with the task of reviewing the interference and orbital debris concerns raised.”
SpaceX had harsh words for Amazon in an August 31 letter sent to the FCC accusing Amazon of using “delay tactics.”
“The commission should recognize this delay tactic for what it is – a continuation of efforts by the Amazon family of companies to hinder competitors to compensate for Amazon’s failure to make progress of its own,” SpaceX argues in its letter.
The letter goes on to state that “While SpaceX has proceeded to deploy more than 1,700 satellites, Amazon has yet to even attempt to address the radiofrequency interference and orbital debris issues that must be resolved before Amazon can deploy its constellations.
“Amazon’s track record amply demonstrates that as it falls behind competitors, it is more than willing to use regulatory and legal processes to create obstacles designed to delay those competitors from leaving Amazon even further behind. These games, unfortunately, have real consequences for consumers, who are not only denied service because of Amazon’s creeping development but also lose access to faster moving competition.”
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared his view on Twitter, suggesting former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a new full time job.
SpaceX argues that the changes it proposes to its configuration would not result in additional interference to other proposed NGSO systems and would comply with commission rules to the same extent as its current constellation.
There is a lot at stake for Amazon, SpaceX and other companies pursuing NGSO satellite broadband. The upfront investment required is high and it isn’t clear how many competitors the market can support.
Accordingly, this is unlikely to be the last time that Amazon, SpaceX and others serve as sparring partners for one another on the NGSO battlefield.