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SpaceX is enlisting customers that use its Starlink low earth orbit satellite broadband service in the battle over the future of the 12 GHz spectrum band. The company has asked Starlink customers to urge their elected officials and the FCC not to change the rules for the band on the grounds that opening the band up to new uses could interfere with Starlink service.

The 12 GHz band includes 500 MHz of spectrum that is currently used by SpaceX, Dish and other companies for satellite connectivity. Dish and others have asked the FCC to allow two-way communications in the band, which would enable the band to be used for 5G service.

Another holder of spectrum in the band, RS Access, submitted a technical study to the FCC that argued that the change could be made without causing significant interference to existing license holders, but Starlink has disputed that finding.

According to a sample message that SpaceX is urging customers to send to their senators and representatives in Congress, repurposing the band “would cause widespread interference and substantially degrade my home internet, while offering zero alternatives for those of us who depend on these services for connectivity.”

Perhaps recognizing that the FCC has more technical expertise on communications technology than the average senator or congressman, the message that SpaceX drafted to be sent to the commission is worded somewhat less sensationally.  

“Allowing an entirely new use of this spectrum would significantly interfere with my broadband internet connection, which I have come to rely on,” the message intended for the FCC says.

A Tough Decision

The FCC faces a tough decision on the 12 GHz band.

The possibility of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum for 5G is tempting at a time when new spectrum suitable for mobile communications is becoming increasingly difficult to identify, even as bandwidth demands continue to climb.

Another consideration is that Dish traditionally has used the spectrum to support its satellite video service but now wants to use it to support the 5G service it has launched – and the FCC would like to see Dish succeed in the wireless market, considering that the commission approved the T-Mobile/Sprint merger under the assumption that Dish would become a viable nationwide mobile service competitor.

On the other hand, the commission undoubtedly would like to avoid another situation like the one that arose when the FAA raised concerns that 5G deployments in the C-band could interfere with airplanes’ navigation equipment, thereby delaying 5G deployments around airports.

Ultimately it will be up to the technical staff at the FCC to make a judgment about the likelihood of whether 5G service in the 12 GHz band will interfere with SpaceX or other incumbent users of the band.

Advocates for changing the rules for the band have said that SpaceX has not provided sufficient research to support its interference claims.

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