Amazon's plan to spend more than $10 billion on a constellation of more than 3,200 low-Earth-orbit, internet-beaming satellites won Federal Communications Commission approval. But industry insiders are guessing about which customers the company plans to serve. Amazon told regulators its satellites could help bridge the digital divide by bringing high-speed broadband to areas that lack competitive internet service.
Welcome to the age of the satellite megaconstellation. Within the next few years, vast networks, containing hundreds or even thousands of spacecraft, could reshape the future of Earth’s orbital environment. Much of the attention on these strings of satellites has been placed on the prolific launches of SpaceX and OneWeb, but the focus is now turning to Amazon.
The Federal Communications Commission grants the request of Kuiper Systems LLC (Kuiper or Amazon) to deploy a non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) system to provide service using certain Fixed-Satellite Service (FSS) and Mobile-Satellite Service (MSS) Ka-band frequencies with conditions adopted. We conclude that grant of Kuiper’s application would advance the public interest by
authorizing a system designed to increase the availability of high-speed broadband service to consumers, government, and businesses.
The Senate Commerce Committee held a nomination hearing on June 16 that featured Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O'Rielly. Commissioner O'Rielly's term expired at the end of June 2019, but commissioners can continue to serve until the close of the next Congress. The new term would date from July 1, 2019.
FCC Chairman Pai Discusses C-Band, the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, and Bad Broadband Maps at Appropriations Hearing
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government held the hearing "Oversight of FCC Spectrum Auctions Program" in which Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai testified. Leading the hearing was Subcommittee Chairman John Kennedy (R-LA), one of the harshest critics of the FCC decision to give satellite companies close to $10 billion in incentive payments to exit the C-Band spectrum by 2021 and 2023 instead of the 2025 deadline the FCC set.
The Federal Communications Commission has reversed course on whether to let SpaceX and other satellite providers apply for rural-broadband funding as low-latency providers. But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said companies like SpaceX will have to prove they can offer low latencies, as the FCC does not plan to "fund untested technologies." Chairman Pai's original proposal classified SpaceX and all other satellite operators as high-latency providers for purposes of the funding distribution, saying the companies haven't proven they can deliver latencies below the FCC standard of 100ms.
SpaceX is slated to launch the latest batch of 60 internet-beaming satellites for its ever-growing Starlink constellation on the night of June 3. Once this mission takes off, SpaceX will have launched a little more than 480 of its Starlink satellites into orbit. That’s only a small fraction of the nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites that the company has permission to launch. The goal of the massive project is to provide global internet coverage from space.
The American space industry holds tremendous potential to address [the challenge of the digital divide] through next-generation satellite broadband. The coming proliferation of small low-earth-orbit satellites promises to unleash internet connectivity with latency and speeds superior to existing satellite broadband options and competitive with cable and fiber offerings. And they will reach places that, due to difficult terrain and distance from population centers, have not shared in the benefits of expanding terrestrial networks.
SpaceX and OneWeb have asked for US permission to launch tens of thousands of additional satellites into low Earth orbit. SpaceX's application to launch 30,000 satellites—in addition to the nearly 12,000 it already has permission for—is consistent with SpaceX's previously announced plans for Starlink. OneWeb's application to launch nearly 48,000 satellites is surprising because the satellite-broadband company filed for bankruptcy in March.
While traditional satellite broadband generally suffers from latency of about 600ms, Elon Musk says that SpaceX's Starlink will offer "latency below 20 milliseconds, so somebody could play a fast-response video game at a competitive level." The Federal Communications Commission is not convinced that Starlink broadband network will be able to deliver the low latencies promised.