The Federal Communications Commission has “serious doubts” that low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite providers—including SpaceX—can deliver internet service while keeping latency under 100 milliseconds.
In a lengthy report on the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund phase I auction (scheduled for late October), the FCC confirmed that while LEO companies are allowed to apply for rural broadband funding as low-latency providers, they should expect a fight. “Short-form applicants seeking to bid as a low-latency provider using low-Earth orbit satellite networks will face a substantial challenge demonstrating to Commission staff that their networks can deliver real-world performance to consumers below the Commission’s 100 ms low-latency threshold,” the FCC said.
SpaceX has been hogging the headlines lately, over the weekend completing yet another Starlink mission, launching 58 branded satellites into orbit; Elon Musk’s rocket firm plans to provide internet service in the northern US and Canada by year’s end, with near-global coverage in 2021.
The company is confident its satellites’ roundtrip latency is up to par for consumers and the Federal Communications Commission. “SpaceX explained that its system easily clears the Commission’s 100 ms threshold for low-latency services, even including its ‘processing time’ during unrealistic worst-case situations,” David Goldman, director of satellite policy, wrote in a May 29 letter to the FCC.
Still, SpaceX has a lot to prove and little time to do it. While the firm has launched nearly 500 satellites, it isn’t yet offering a commercial service. And companies must submit auction applications by July 15—one month from today.
“The record demonstrates significant concern regarding applicants that propose to use technologies that have not been widely deployed to offer services at high speeds or low latency, or have not been deployed at all on a commercial basis to retail consumers,” the FCC said. “Auction 904 is not the appropriate venue to test unproven technologies using universal service support.”
SpaceX last year earned regulatory approval to develop a satellite constellation that offers a low-cost, high-performance solution to providing fast internet access. Called Starlink, it will eventually consist of close to 12,000 satellites spread across multiple orbits. Musk recently hinted at a private beta launch this summer, with a public beta by the end of the year, “starting with high altitudes,” which, he confirmed, could include the German market.
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