SpaceX asks FCC to make exception for LEO constellations in Connect America Fund decisions

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LONDON — SpaceX does not want the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to exclude its future low-Earth orbit constellation as a potential Connect America Fund award recipient because of the way the agency classifies communications satellites.

While giving no new details on the launch company’s proposed satellite broadband constellation, SpaceX argues that the proposed rules for the fund released in August would make its satellite constellation ineligible to participate because they classify all satellites as incapable of being low latency.

“Conflating [Non-geosynchronous] systems and [geosynchronous] systems would be the same as the Commission prohibiting fiber systems from bidding because dial-up is not fast enough: just because both systems are hard wired does not mean that they are equivalent,” SpaceX wrote in a Sept. 18 letter.

The Connect America Fund is an FCC initiative to connect an estimated 23 million Americans with either no internet access, or access slower than 10 Mbps downlink and 1 Mbps uplink. In the Phase 2 auction, the agency intends to provide up to $198 million to voice and broadband service providers over the next 10 years, starting in 2018.

SpaceX has two constellation applications pending FCC approval — one for a 4,425 satellite constellation operating in Ka- and Ku-band from around 1,200 kilometers, and another for 7,518 V-band satellites flying between 335 and 345 kilometers. The company says the latency of its constellation will range from 25 to 35 milliseconds, appreciably faster than that of geosynchronous satellites which usually have at least a half a second of round-trip signal delay from being 36,000 kilometers up.

“When deployed, these constellations will be capable of delivering broadband speeds directly to individual users anywhere in the United States or around the world at fiber-like speeds,” SpaceX said.

SpaceX is not the only pending non-geosynchronous (NGSO) operator to vie for FCC interest in using low-Earth orbit satellites to connect rural parts of the United States. Nine others have submitted applications to access the U.S. market, and OneWeb, which has the first of 900 small Ku-band satellites under construction today, gained FCC-approval for U.S. market access in June.

Along with delineating between GEO and NGSO, SpaceX also asked the FCC not to make supporting a standalone voice service a requirement for receiving Connect America Fund Auction 2 resources. SpaceX said its constellation, as an IP-network, will already be able to support voice communications. The company joins AT&T, Southern Tier Wireless, and the United States Telecom Association in asking for removal of the standalone voice requirement.