back to article FCC decides against giving Starlink $1b in rural broadband subsidies

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided it won't give Starlink nearly a billion dollars in rural broadband subsidies after all. The reversal has already drawn criticism from some corners, including from inside the FCC, for failing those without internet access. In an official notice, the FCC said it …

  1. Richard Boyce

    Are all improving technologies disqualified?

    That seems to be the gist of the FCC's reasoning.

    Is it good enough and reliable enough to deliver what people need?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are all improving technologies disqualified?

      Apparently not. Most applicants are on a waiting list. So it's not shown what level of service will be provided and at what price once fully up and running.

      And Starlink has already received 0.8+ billion dollars in 2020.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Are all improving technologies disqualified?

      It isn't the fact it is "improving", it is the fact it isn't good enough to qualify today. Early adopters with Starlink who were getting 100 Mbps speeds are reporting (and showing speedtest results to confirm) speeds less than 1 Mbps now at certain times of the day. Starlink has obviously been selling their service faster than they should despite the waiting list, as their satellite launches are clearly unable to keep up.

      Given Musk's poor track record keeping promises, they certainly shouldn't believe his claims that it will better once they launch more satellites. I could easily see poor speeds persisting even after they have their full constellation in orbit, and him coming up with excuses like "it has proved too popular and we have more subscribers than anticipated, but our next generation satellites will fix that problem!" He's very good at kicking the can down the road by ignoring the failure of his previous promises when making his next promise.

    3. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Are all improving technologies disqualified?

      This is a curious situation:

      It turns out that because of the peculiarities of orbital mechanics, if Starlink provides decent coverage in New York City or London ( 40 deg latitude for NYC, 51 deg for London) it will provide pretty much the same coverage everywhere at the same latitude. Including vast expanses of desert, ocean, and howling wilderness with few or even no inhabitants. There are some nuances involving number and location of ground stations and relays. But basically, satellite providers unlike ground based providers, don't need a lot of additional infrastructure in order to provide rural service.

      And satellite providers probably need good coverage in NYC, London and other metropolitan areas if they plan to make money.

      So why pay them a bundle to provide to rural users what they are going to provide anyway?

      Now if you want coverage in Alaska, Iceland, the high Arctic or Antarctic, THAT probably requires a subsidy. Maybe a substantial subsidy.

  2. usbac

    What about all of the billions of taxpayer's dollars that were given to AT&T, Comcast, and Charter, who then stopped building out their rural infrastructure? Are we, the taxpayers going to be getting that money back?

    Oh, that's right, the big ISPs spend a big chunk of that money bribing our lawmakers, and apparently Starlink doesn't. They better start "investing" in the right things if they are going to compete.

    I thought Rosenworcel was going to be a refreshing change to the FCC. I guess she is just as dim-witted as Pai was corrupt. Expecting anything useful and beneficial to the public to come out of DC is just unrealistic.

    1. aki009

      If you are going to call Pai corrupt, I fail to get why you wouldn't extend the same to Rosenworcel. She's been in the game long enough to not be able to play the dummy card.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Supposedly there are protections in place against that happening this time around. Hopefully the subsidies aren't paid until AFTER the connectivity is provided as promised, or at least they can be clawed back (and companies can't hide behind using a subsidiary to claim them and then bankrupting that subsidiary)

      The problem is the people writing these laws and regulations are not as sophisticated as the armies of lawyers who examine them for every loophole. If they get just one thing wrong the cable/telco crowd will seize on that as their way around actually doing what is supposed to be required of them.

      That doesn't mean there isn't ALSO corruption - i.e. going out of their way to insure there are loopholes for their industry buddies.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Oh, that's right, the big ISPs spend a big chunk of that money bribing our lawmakers,"

      It does make one wonder why LTD didn't get comms carrier status in 7 of the 15 states they applied for. I've never heard of them, so there may be good technical reasons why they didn't get that. But seeing how the incumbents operate, I'd not be surprised to learn the likes of AT&T et al spent money lobbying against them in some form or other.

  3. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Mushroom

    criticizm

    Really? Go yank spelling if you like, but if you're going to use it at least get it right!

  4. xyz

    Weird...

    My COO of a GF spends all day in Teams meetings via my Starlink dish running off solar power in the middle of nowhere. Not even a whiff of mobile coverage around these parts and the FCC says its not a developed tech yet??? That woman must receive a lot of brown envelopes in the mail.. IMHO

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Weird...

      That's not what they said. They said it wasn't good enough for their needs yet and acknowledge that it's developing, implying that it might in the future meet their needs. How many others near you* have Starlink service? Can it stand a few thousand of them getting their own connections? Can it stand most local businesses also having one? If the answers are "no" or "not yet, but", that's why it's not yet suitable for the scale they want.

      * You may not be that close to other people, but the satellite uses a different concept of closeness. People who are using the same satellite as you or one that interferes with yours by using the same downlink facility as it comes into an orbit better positioned for your use count as close.

      1. stiine Silver badge

        Re: Weird...

        Its the same measure of closeness, but its in decrees of arc, with a focus at 250miles altitude.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't blow your wad

    Starlink status April 20222

    Starlink and Elon Musk announced a few recent changes to the popular satellite internet service, including:

    - Wait times for equipment are pushed back to late 2022 through early 2023 due to chip shortages.

    - The cost for basic Starlink internet rose to $110 a month, with the equipment price rising to $599 as well. (If you paid a deposit on the original $499 equipment price, you'll pay $549.)

    - A new Starlink Business service tier, which costs $500 a month plus a $2,500 equipment cost.

    So, it's not there yet and the price is not stable.

    ... SpaceX, was awarded $885.5 million in the December 2020 auction ...

    It's not like they have not already received significant funds.

    ... the $20.4 billion that the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund has to distribute over 10 years to bring internet access to millions of homes and small businesses in rural America ...

    The time frame suggests it is intended to respond to what actually pans out in terms of performance and cost.

    IMO - Rosenworcel is doing the right thing, working in the public long term interest. Which means she will probably be replaced sooner than later :(

    1. Oglethorpe

      Re: Don't blow your wad

      My ISP has nobbled me with much nastier price increases in the past, knowing they're the only game in town for speeds over 100mbps.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Don't blow your wad

        That's something only broadband providers without competition can do. Everywhere else broadband prices go down and/or speeds improve, because technology is improving at a much faster pace than even our current bout of inflation can put pressure on them to rise.

        Starlink would not be able to do that either if they weren't essentially the only game in town for rural customers (there is Hughes in the US, but as a GSO satellite provider the latency and speed is worse, but needing far fewer satellites at least the price is lower also)

    2. Marty McFly Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Don't blow your wad

      Deposit put down February 2022. Received dish July 2022.

      Rural America, no cell service, POTS line with DSL from Centurylink. Even dealing with Starlink obstruction issues, it is approximately 20x faster than Centurylink. Centurylink has multi-day outages multiple times per year on both DSL & the land line - hope no one needs to call 911....

      Only grumble is needing to keep Centurylink. Being a remotely employed techie, I am dependent on Internet service. Two is one and one is none, so I will keep them around. Maybe I'll re-evaluate in a year or so. I need the DSL's static IP address for tech stuff, so kind of stuck there. But if if Starlink continues to be a rock star, I may just tell Centurytel what I really think of them.

    3. Erik Beall

      Re: Don't blow your wad

      Good points, but I have to point out that tech right now is a highly inflationary environment, price increases and delays on the just unlucky (or just plain poorly organized) component shortages are all but inevitable.

  6. that one in the corner Silver badge

    If Starlink *is* already good enough to use

    as some are saying, why give Starlink the money directly, instead of using the money to buy the dish for rural peoples and actually get them connected?

    1. Robert Grant Silver badge

      Re: If Starlink *is* already good enough to use

      Next you'll be suggesting that taxes are lower and people can choose what to buy.

  7. big_D Silver badge

    Rural infrastructure

    I guess one of the biggest points against Starlink is that it is using satellites, which it is already launching and mobile ground stations. They could use the money for satellites that were never deployed over rural areas, or because they orbit (they aren't geostationary), they wouldn't be used exclusively for those rural areas.

    Laying a cable into the area, on the other hand, has solid evidence that the money is being spent in that area.

    But I think that would say more about the state of the authorities managing the payouts. But it seems, in this case, that it was other reasons, not the obvious ones, and those hold even less water.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Puzzling

    > these two companies had failed to demonstrate that the providers would be able to deliver the promised service

    I know people in rural areas in France whose only means of internet access are via Starlink and they're very satisfied with the service.

    Someone makes a point about scaling the service from a few scattered individuals to entire remote communities, but surely some level of access _now_ is better than no access at all?

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Puzzling

      "Someone makes a point about scaling the service from a few scattered individuals to entire remote communities, but surely some level of access _now_ is better than no access at all?"

      Yes, if you're making your own decision. Not if someone else is paying for the long-term infrastructure. If they're doing that, they would much prefer good access for the long-term future, albeit one that requires a longer time to get started, to working access as quickly as possible that will soon be degraded and have nothing to switch to because all the money went on that.

      Or at least, they should. If you focus on infrastructure you can verify will work long-term, you solve the problem in an area. If you spend it on something that might fail to scale, you could easily end up with the same problem a decade later and need to do another investment.

  9. MachDiamond Silver badge

    One point universes

    Starlink is bound to work for certain people very well, but that doesn't make it a viable business nor something that should be subsidized by a government. Most things should not be subsidized by government as it usually leads to a skewing of the real market and stifles competition. For somebody to post that they get great service or they know somebody for which Starlink is the bug's guts, it's a statistical universe containing one data point and, therefore, useless.

    The Common Sense Skeptic did a good debunking of the business case for Starlink on their YouTube channel. They blew it when they use the advertised price for a Falcon 9 launch rather than a reasonable estimate of the "cost" of a launch. On the other side, they didn't put in the costs to tie into the internet backbone although those costs might be hard to get any information about. The downlink stations will cost money and so will maintenance and repairs of those facilities along with periodic upgrades. One thing that I think they illustrated very well was what places in the world could afford the service. The vast majority of the first world already has options for broadband internet whether terrestrial or via satellite. The rest of the world might not be able to afford a computer that was modern enough to work on the internet. Even if CSS's numbers need some tightening up, I don't think it changes the opinion that it isn't going to be a viable long term business and has the massive downside of polluting low Earth orbit in a way that will cause problems that can't be readily addressed at this time.

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