SpaceX FCC broadband feud against Michael Dell affiliate Dish escalates

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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk speaks about the Starlink project at the MWC Hybrid Keynote during day two of Mobile World Congress on June 29, 2021 in Barcelona, ​​Spain.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Tuesday escalated a battle over broadband regulation with Dish Network and a subsidiary of billionaire Michael Dell, calling on the FCC to settle lingering disputes over broadband usage that could interfere with its network Starlink satellite internet.

At the heart of the dispute is the use of the 12 gigahertz band, a range of frequencies used for broadband communications, and the frequency’s ability to support terrestrial and space services.

In January 2021, the Federal Communications Commission issued an advisory seeking comment on how best to use the 12 gigahertz band. Dish and RS Access, funded by Dell’s investment firm, have published studies claiming that ground-based 5G networks could share frequency with satellite networks in low Earth orbit, such as Starlink or OneWeb.

SpaceX filed its analysis of the Dish and RS Access studies on Tuesday, saying it needed to correct what it called “some of the more glaring assumptions” in the reports, arguing that Starlink users would see interference to the point of causing service interruptions for customers “74% of the time.”

Musk’s company called on the FCC “to investigate whether DISH and RS Access filed intentionally misleading reports,” noting that the studies did not match Dish’s findings two years earlier that called the use of sharing ” unsustainable”.

A spokesperson for Dish told CNBC that “the company’s expert engineers are evaluating SpaceX’s claims in the filing.”

SpaceX isn’t alone in opposing a potential expansion of 12 gigahertz usage. Telecommunications companies, such as AT&T, tech giants Google and Microsoft, and satellite network operators such as Intelsat, OneWeb and SES, have all filed comments with the federal agency to object. to change.

Senior SpaceX officials told CNBC the company hopes its analysis will persuade the FCC to see that a ruling in favor of Dish and RS Access poses what amounts to an existential threat to the company’s Starlink network.

“Leaving the procedure open any longer simply cannot be justified for political or technical reasons. In the six years the Commission has allowed this procedure to fester, satellite operators have been forced to spend countless hours of engineering to respond to the frivolous arguments of DISH and RS Access,” SpaceX Senior Director of Satellite Policy David Goldman wrote in a letter to the FCC on Tuesday.

SpaceX has launched about 2,700 Starlink satellites into orbit to date, with nearly 500,000 users, and its manufacturing line produces about 30,000 satellite dishes a week.

The FCC declined CNBC’s request for comment on when it plans to issue a ruling on the 12 gigahertz band.

Spectrum rights

Dish Networks is exhibiting at CES 2016 in Las Vegas.

Justin Solomon | CNBC

Dish and RS Access lead a coalition of companies that hold terrestrial FCC licenses in the 12 gigahertz band, with the pair of entities representing the two largest licensees in that frequency range. While Dish is best known for providing satellite television services, the company has acquired large swathes of spectrum.

For years, Dish maintained that it would use its valuable spectrum rights. Recently, as an FCC deadline approached, Dish rolled out its “Project Genesis” network of 5G service, which the company said met a government requirement to offer service at more than 20% the American population. Whether Dish’s network actually meets that threshold is a matter of controversy, according to testing of the service by The Verge.

“DISH has never delivered on its repeated promises to roll out a new terrestrial network using the exclusive licenses already stored in its warehouses – the Commission simply cannot offer more spectrum to an operator with this record of broken promises and stranded consumers,” Goldman wrote in SpaceX’s letter to the FCC.

Dish did not immediately comment to the Project Genesis network in response to CNBC.

Dish has already faced repercussions from the FCC on spectrum rights. In an unrelated U.S. Court of Appeals decision on Tuesday, a federal judge upheld an FCC ruling that Dish had “de facto control” over two other companies, Bloomberg reported. The arrangement violated spectrum auction rules by acquiring $3.3 billion in auction credits earmarked for small businesses, according to the report.

Read SpaceX’s letter to the FCC here.

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