SpaceX Starlink Dubbed an “Experiment” by Rivals for Broadband Subsidies

The path to high speed, rural internet isn’t without barriers, as SpaceX founder Elon Musk should know by now.

On Friday, more than 150 members of Congress wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to encourage them to thoroughly vet all companies involved in a bid for satellite-based broadband, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The letter did not mention SpaceX by name, though the company recently won conditional access to $886 million in government funding to expand rural broadband service with its satellite constellation, through its service called Starlink.

Two trade groups pushed the letter online: the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the Rural Broadband Association. These companies have competed for federal subsidies in the past. The NRECA represents electricity providers set out to build fibre-optic broadband, which are also seeking federal subsidies.

NRECA executive Jim Matheson questioned SpaceX, saying “We are in effect funding an experiment here,” further telling the WSJ in an interview, “We don’t know if it works or doesn’t work.”

Now, in the FCC’s final round of researching who the winner of this funding should be, it will look into SpaceX’s rivals, and others looking to benefit from government subsidies. Much of the funding represents potential network expansion money for other technologies, like fiber-optic broadband companies.

SpaceX, which originally planned to launch 60 new Starlink satellites on Tuesday, will now move the launch to Wednesday due to ill weather conditions.

In any case, SpaceX is likely to receive the government subsidy for Starlink, but in order to do so, it will need to compete fairly with other internet technology companies in the eyes of the FCC.