OneWeb spars with SpaceX, Boeing, SES and Space Norway over FCC coverage rule

by

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Federal Communications Commission requirement that developers of non-geostationary-orbit (NGSO) satellite systems provide full coverage of the United States to get market access has  prospective megaconstellation operators pitted against each other.

The FCC, in a notice of proposed rulemaking that closed Jan. 29, asked for input on whether it should maintain the nationwide coverage requirement, noting that some proposed systems are not designed to reach all of the continental U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

OneWeb, with investors Intelsat and Hughes, and Alaska’s governor were alone in showing favor for the rule. On Jan. 29, the three companies wrote the FCC saying that removing the rule would negatively impact the development of rural connectivity.

“The Commission must not abandon its duty to facilitate broadband access for rural parts of the United States, relying solely upon the premise that this would make it cheaper or easier for a few NGSO [fixed satellite service] operators to design and build their systems,” the companies wrote. “This would be an arbitrary and capricious agency action that fails to properly account for the public interest and runs counter to record evidence demonstrating that the domestic coverage rule will help bridge the digital divide across the United States.”

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker wrote the commission Jan. 2 saying that “the incentive for generalized non-geostationary, fixed-satellite service systems to provide service to all of Alaska in addition to the contiguous states disappears with the removal of the domestic coverage requirement.”

OneWeb founder Greg Wyler said in October that the company’s first customer will likely be in Alaska. Local telco Alaska Communications in May signed a Memorandum of Understanding to become OneWeb’s first reseller in 2019.

“We would like to see more satellite systems follow [OneWeb], and the domestic coverage rule ensures just that,” Walker wrote.

OneWeb, Intelsat and Hughes said the commission should keep its coverage rules and allow waivers “where justified,” as was done for Space Norway and O3b Networks.

SpaceX, Boeing, SES and Space Norway all took the opposite view.

“Eliminating the rule will ensure that the Commission does not retain outmoded regulations that may effectively preclude an innovative NGSO design that would meet an identifiable market need,” SpaceX wrote Jan. 29.

Boeing wrote Jan. 29 that the company “fully concurs with Governor Walker regarding the substantial public interest benefits that NGSO satellite systems can provide in closing the digital divide,” but disagrees that operators lack motivation to connect Alaska absent FCC regulations.

The FCC last year licensed two NGSO systems that meet its coverage rules — OneWeb and Telesat.

Ironically, Space Norway, though not planning to cover the entire U.S., said that without the waiver given for its two-satellite, highly elliptical orbit system, the company would be barred from serving the only U.S. state its system will reach — Alaska. Space Norway argued regional NGSO systems like its proposed Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission should be excluded from the domestic coverage requirement.

SES, responding to the FCC on behalf of its medium-Earth-orbit constellation called O3b, said the existence of multiple proposed constellations that include coverage of the entire U.S. negate Walker’s argument that rural areas would be overlooked.

“With several NGSO systems poised to offer ubiquitous domestic coverage, the Commission has no compelling policy reason to retain the requirement and continue to constrain system designs for future NGSO applicants,” SES wrote.