back to article FCC proudly wastes $90m getting data-capped, pricey satellite internet to tiny percentage of US population

America's communications watchdog, the FCC, has unveiled another piece of its rural broadband master plan – and it comprises blowing $89m on getting a tiny number of people very expensive, data-capped internet. In return, the lucky 123,000 homes and businesses, out of millions across the US, will be able to get satellite …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pirate radio?

    What's the point? Do they have money?

    Why not just ask them to use a spare frequency! (and check the equipment doesn't bleed over).

    Clearly there's community support, or they would have given up.

    "Demonstrating that it really has its finger on the pulse and is using its resources in the most effective way possible, the FCC has also announced huge fines of $151,000 and $453,000 on the operators of two pirate radio stations in Boston. "

    1. Ole Juul

      Re: Pirate radio?

      Good point about them clearly having community support. The situation is more about competition though. The big guys pay huge licensing sums and have traditionally claimed a lot of air space in return. A license to print money is worth protecting aggressively. That said, I'm rooting for the pirates.

  2. Chris G


    This is less about having a finger on the pulse and more about who has a finger in which pie?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Finger?

      A finger in a Pai? *Cough* I'll get my coat...

    2. sbt

      - That's not my pie!

      - That's not my finger.

      The FCC should spend their spectrum windfalls on fostering competition in the space, if they really wanted to get good value for their money as well as improving access (including the price outcomes for consumers). But this is FCC, so that's not going to happen; The F doesn't stand for 'Federal' any more. It stands for 'F*cked'.

      Mine's the one with the matching oven gloves. -->

      1. theblackhand

        Re: - That's not my pie!

        "The FCC should spend their spectrum windfalls on fostering competition in the space"

        *Pai types something on his laptop to see what the telecoms companies will let him say*

        "Computer says no...."

  3. JohnFen

    The hits never stop

    "“Across the nation, we’re continuing to close the digital divide so that all Americans - no matter where they live - have access to affordable broadband connectivity and the digital opportunity it brings,” said FCC chairman and big mug enthusiast Ajit Pai this week."

    Pai's lies are a Neverending Story.

    1. Fatman

      Re: The hits never stop

      <quote>Pai's lies are a Neverending Story.</quote>

      He isn't the only one. His """boss""" just got a Christmas present courtesy of the (US) House of Representatives.

  4. Mark 85

    $80 per month?

    But then you have to figure in the dish (with has to transmit as well as receive) and the equipment to go with the dish.

    1. Oliver Mayes

      Re: $80 per month?

      A lot of residential satellite links use a low bandwidth modem on a phone line for the upstream half of the connection, you don't need much bandwidth to request a webpage after all. It's only the downstream that arrives from space.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: $80 per month?

        Can you do 3Mb up with a low bandwidth modem on a long phone line?

        1. bob, mon!

          Re: $80 per month?

          "Can you do 3Mb up with a low bandwidth modem on a long phone line?"

          AHHHAHAHAHA*kaffkaff* No.

          I get less than 100 KB/s (so 800Kb/s) up on a good day... and Verizon DSL doesn't give me good days. I just now got a 44.1KB/s upload of a 300MB file. Yawnnn....

          Of course, a true "low bandwidth modem" would be the 300-Baud unit I started out with, back in the previous millennium.

          1. JohnFen

            Re: $80 per month?

            "Of course, a true "low bandwidth modem" would be the 300-Baud unit I started out with, back in the previous millennium."

            300 baud? I remember when the standard modem was 110 baud, and we considered 300 baud to be "high speed".

      2. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: $80 per month?

        Of you are uploading photos to facebook, or documents to dropbox, you need quite a bit of upload bandwidth. If you are doing facetime calls, your upload and download are the same.

      3. ranch_cow

        Re: $80 per month?

        No, a lot of systems do not utilize a phone line anymore. The system utilizing a phone line was obsoleted almost 15 years ago (at least). It may be available in special applications, but I haven't seen it, it's not offered by the two major residential satellite providers.

        Viasat does have a new system in testing in unknown areas utilitzing DSL, but it's more of a hybrid, not using the DSL for upload only. Details on that are unknown. Except, it costs more, of course, they figure paying for the full price of a dsl line, plus satellite service, and from what I read, extra to make it work together.

    2. ranch_cow

      Re: $80 per month?

      Cost of equipment is covered by the lease fee that is in addition to the monthly fee. It was around $10/month last time I had the service (although when I had it, they allowed purchasing outright, which I did, they don't anymore), and last I checked.

  5. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    USA is a very big place, so I bet fibre (to ADSL) is unfeasible in many places.

    However, isn't Musk already rolling out something much more ambitious than this?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yet in other places Fixed Wireless Access is preferred. You need to bring fibre only to the base station, and it avoids the more expensive work to connect each house.

      Water towers and other existing infrastructures can be used to host the antennas.

      1. Chris G

        I get the feeling that, with the right kind of 'lobbying' Pai would invest in, and extoll the virtue of Clacks towers across the US.

        1. iron Silver badge

          With the right kinf of 'lobbying' (non-sequential, used notes please) Pai would extol the virtues of anything.

        2. schubb

          He does remind me very much of a goblin.... Maybe that is his end goal, a monopoly in Clacks towers!

      2. ranch_cow

        That gets into the same issue as cell service. Range is limited. I'm 13 miles from a cell tower. 15 miles from a water tower, and 30 miles from any tall structure other than those. Antennas placed on those types of things have limited range. The Wisp provider in the area won't install much beyond 5 miles. I am able to get cell service in the house with a roof antenna, and I can literally see that tower that is 13 miles away.

        Population density where I am is about 2 people per square mile. My neighbors are over a mile away, many are much farther apart than that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "USA is a very big place, so I bet fibre (to ADSL) is unfeasible in many places."

      While you are correct, many of the places poorly served by telcos and cable companies aren't difficult to serve using these technologies. The fact that the companies allow effective monopolies and force you into triple/quad-plays to get anything approaching value shows the harm that monopolies cause.

      i.e. cities were the alternative is $150-$200/month for cable TV/Internet/mobile or $100+/month for up to 24Mbps ADSL2 from the competition. If you want choice, move to another city.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      USA is a very big place, so I bet fibre (to ADSL) is unfeasible in many places.

      Yet many of those places are on the electrical grid. Rural electrification turned out to be feasible.

      Here at the Mountain Fastness, a largely rural county got a widespread fiber-to-the-premises rollout courtesy of the local electrical co-op, which created an ISP subsidiary and ran the fiber on its existing utility poles. They already have to maintain the poles themselves and access to them, so it was just a matter of hanging an additional line along each run.

      There's an additional installation fee to get the drop to each building where a subscriber wants service, plus the equipment, of course; but after that you can get various plans at rates which are considerably better in bandwidth, reliability, and cost/bandwidth than local DSL options.

      There are also some firms doing fixed wireless in the area for off-grid homes, since they can use the fiber network for backhaul.

      Yes, it might be hard to justify running fiber out to a building on some giant farm in western Nebraska or something. But I suspect it would be feasible to run fiber to a sizable majority of on-grid homes, which would serve most of the US population.

    4. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "However, isn't Musk already rolling out something much more ambitious than this?"

      Yes and he likely had some inkling of a government support program coming along. Starlink just needs to launch another 12,000 satellites to cover the Earth and completely bugger all astronomy from the surface.

  6. Cuddles


    I've seen this coverage noted a few times. Is the missing part places like Hawaii and maybe the northern end of Alaska which fall outside the coverage area, or are there actual parts of the mainland that somehow get missed?

    1. wjake

      Re: 98%

      Rural Mountain West, Kansas, Nebraska, etc.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: 98%

        Its probably more oriented at Wyoming and Idaho for reasons that would make sense if you figure our who lives there. (...and we're not talking people in their double-wides)

      2. Cuddles

        Re: 98%

        Why wouldn't those places be covered by the satellite service in question?

        1. JohnFen

          Re: 98%

          I don't know about those places specifically, but there are many isolated pockets where satellite service is unavailable due to local geography (mountains interrupting line-of-sight to the satellite, for instance).

        2. ranch_cow

          Re: 98%

          They aimed beams at more populated areas in general. Some areas are only served by the old satellites that have been in use over a decade. Viasat 1 did not cover my area at all. Vs-2 had an antenna failure for which they got a hefty insurance payout, it did not deploy correctly, coverage areas are missing, and misshapen, as well as lower signal than expected.

      3. ranch_cow

        Re: 98%

        Living in rural Nebraska. That map is absolutely ridiculous in my area, not based on fact in any way, shape or form. The second closest village offers fiber with the phone company, 16 miles from me. But, it maxes out at 10, that's the highest tier. The map shows "50" available. The phone company is the only provider for fixed service, Verizon wireless being the other carrier (and cell service never gets to "50" either). It shows coverage where there is none at all. Viasat maxes out at 12 in my zipcode.

    2. bob, mon!

      Re: 98%

      Rural Pennsylvania. Rural (western) New York, rural Vermont, New Hampshire. Rural Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, etc.

      I'm 2 hours from New York City (at 70 mph), and 4 hours from Pittsburgh. Lots of small towns in between, but lots of farms, forests, state hunting lands and the like as well. My nearest neighbor is across the road, but the next nearest is 1/8 mile away. No cable out here, never mind fibre. Some days "IP over avian carrier" seems like a viable option.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What you meant to say

    What you meant to say is that giving a massive handout to a few ISPs so they can buy enough satelite time so they can can charge high prices for probably really poor rural service.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What you meant to say

      The satellite providers have been FCC's friends for some time and all that data is moving to terrestrial systems.

      I suspect it is more likely that its the satellite providers getting the majority of the kick backs in exchange for less moaning about giving up wireless spectrum to 5G providers.

      That's not to say that ISP's won't get handouts too, it just doesn't sound like enough to get a big US telco out of bed in the morning.

  8. phuzz Silver badge

    It says something about the state of the US home internet market, that spending millions on satellite internet is actually preferable to dealing with Comcast

    1. ranch_cow

      Many towns don't have cable in the first place. I'm 15 miles from the village. The phone company is locally owned, and has been for sale for several years. They can't afford to do anything. In town they offer 5 meg service. Mandatory phone line at $35, plus cheapest DSL at $50, $85 for the service total, and it barely works (audio streaming cuts out sometimes).

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And here I thought the party of small government was in charge.

  10. Alchemi

    To add a few notes here.

    I'm a Viasat customer. When I moved to where I am now, I knew my options would be limited to terrestrial radio, satellite and maybe dialup. (ATT later argued that they don't provide landlines in my area despite the fact that I have three of their active demarcs on my property). Oh yeah, mobile broadband doesn't work because my cell signal is wretched.

    Long story short, terrestrial radio doesn't work for me without something like a 75' mast, so I have Viasat. You rent their equipment. If their equipment fails, you're responsible for the cost of repairs, even if it's not your fault. After three months the promo price wears off and the cost increased by 50%/month. I'll see 60 Mbps at night and early mornings and a reported 4-6 Mbps upload speeds (no phone line for uplink). My latency has improved from > 600 ms to just under 600 ms in the last few months. I have a 60 GB soft cap and sometimes after my teenage son hits it my speeds are as low as 200k down (but still 3-5 Mbps up).

    I don't have it because I want it. I have it because I need it. An IT guy without Internet?

    All that said, there's fiber running on the poles just over 2000' feet north from my house. I'm pretty sure the neighborhood about 1.5 miles to my east has fiber to the node. There's a cell tower (which surely has a backbone) about one mile to my west and I have utility poles running along the backside of my property to the intersecting road with the fiber.

    And I still have lousy cell and Satellite.

  11. joemostowey

    Freely Corrupt Commisars

    The FCC- What a GOP joke. More like finding comfort in corruption.

    1.3 miles down the road I can get Cox for 30 dollars at 100mps. No Caps.

    With the accursed Pia , stooge of the communications industry leading the FCC, and his three GOP compatriots backing him up, until a new regime takes place, the American people will never see an internet worthy of the name. Like the fellow who gave him his appointment, he's lied, cheated and been forced to at least appear legitimate (remember the net neutrality "comments"/ supporting him? all faked, and would have gotten away with it if folks hadn't raised a ruckus.

    Too bad such as he aren't decent enough to crawl under a rock and decompose. And when his time in the FCC is over, there is a cushy Verizon, or AT&T position waiting for him.

    The satellite deal is the "best" those of us less than 50 miles from the state capitol can expect- You'll take what we give you and be HAPPY ABOUT IT - or else.

  12. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    It always seems to me that high speed internet access (high, for the purposes of this post, is anything higher than dial up speed) is a mess in the US.

    I think the problem is partly geography (after all, outside the cities, the population in the US seems to be quite spread out). No commercial comms provider is going install or upgrade hundreds of miles of network because a couple of hundred people might want to use their services. This has knock on effects, because it also means that the mobile networks (who would also be factoring in the low population anyway) would not have access to decent backhaul for their networks.

    Another problem the US has in over reliance on private enterprise to do this. Private enterprise doesn't do anything unless they see profit in it. As stated above, they aren't going to run hundreds of miles of fibre or cable, with all the associated equipment needed, not to mention an electricity supply for that equipment, unless they see the potential for profit. Seeing as the few people that are likely to want broadband are not likely to be willing (assuming they are even able) to pay tens of thousands a dollars a month, and there are likely to be only a few people (rather than thousands) using the service, any funding for such networks would have to come from another source (such as the Government),

    The third problem is that it seems (to an outsider like me) that the internet providers are allowed to do pretty much what they want, and aren't really competing in a lot of areas.

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