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SpaceX and T-Mobile to reveal plan to boost US connectivity


Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

SpaceX and US mobile carrier T-Mobile have teased an announcement, to be shared today, that they claim will “increase connectivity”. 

The two companies, along with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, announced the surprise event via their respective Twitter accounts. It will be held at 7:00pm CT today at SpaceX’s Starbase spaceport in Texas and will be live-streamed on SpaceX’s YouTube channel.

Musk told his 104 million followers on Twitter that “this is something special”, but the companies have revealed nothing more than the time and location, and that it concerns increasing connectivity.

SEE: SpaceX: Starlink Maritime is ready for yachts, ships and oil rigs

The event will be hosted by SpaceX’s ‘Chief Engineer Elon’ and T-Mobile CEO and President Mike Sievert. SpaceX earlier this month was prepping Starbase for its upcoming Starship launch.

It’s possible that SpaceX’s launch with T-Mobile is linked to the former’s battle with Dish Network and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over a proposed allocation of spectrum for 5G.

Via The Verge, the FCC in January last year considered opening up the 12GHz band for 5G operators. SpaceX said it used that band to provide “critical downlink services” across the US and claimed that if it was forced to share band with 5G operators, it would cause a total outage of service 74% of the time, according to its study.  

The FCC also this month rejected Starlink’s application for $885 million in funding from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program. SpaceX was awarded it preliminarily in 2020 to provide low-latency broadband across 643,000 locations in 35 states at 100/20Mbps speeds.

In rejecting Starlink’s subsequent application last month, President Biden-appointed FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel questioned whether public funds should be spent on SpaceX’s “nascent” technology and highlighted Starlink’s $600 setup fee. She also raised concerns over its declining speeds in recent months.

On Wednesday, FCC chairman Brendan Carr — a “5G crusader” nominated by President Trump — slammed the FCC for canceling Starlink’s award without first putting the question to a vote.

The FCC board normally has five commissioners, as it did when SpaceX was initially awarded the RDOF funds in 2020. But there are currently only four commissioners, leaving major decisions deadlocked. Carr is the leading member of two Republican-nominated FCC commissioners.

“I was surprised to find out by an FCC press release issued earlier this month that agency leadership had suddenly reversed course on an $885 million infrastructure award that Elon Musk’s Starlink won in 2020 to provide high-speed internet service to unconnected Americans. The agency’s decision here mirrors the Administration’s broader set of infrastructure missteps by costing taxpayer dollars while leaving rural communities behind,” said Carr in a press release.

“As an initial matter, this a very curious outcome because the reasons the agency offers for backtracking on this infrastructure decision do not withstand even casual scrutiny. Indeed, the reversal constitutes clear error and plainly exceeds agency authority.”

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According to Carr, the FCC calling Starlink’s technology “risky” and “still developing” didn’t make sense. Rosenworcel had pointed to a study that showed Starlink’s speeds had declined in recent quarters, but Carr points out that its speeds increased year over year.

“Particularly given the speeds Starlink is already offering and the pace with which it is continuing to launch satellites, the FCC’s decision offers no reasoned basis for determining that Starlink was incapable of meeting its regulatory obligations. In fact, Starlink is already exceeding those benchmark speeds in other countries where their services are online,” said Carr.

In his press release, Carr also notes that the FCC’s skepticism conflicts with confidence expressed by other components of the federal government, including the Air Force. He also disputes the FCC’s pricing argument, citing lower-speed, high-cost FCC-provided internet services and argues that “this agency decision will hit taxpayers in their pocketbooks”.

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