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SpaceX tries to de-orbit Amazon's request for a satellite broadband shortcut

Stop the presses: Billionaires think sharing is a great idea, until a rival billionaire wants to share

SpaceX has tried to shoot down Amazon's attempt to speed up approval of its rival satellite broadband constellation.

As readers will be aware, SpaceX's Starlink is already beaming down broadband services from thousands of satellites.

Amazon wants its own Kuiper service to share some of the radio frequencies Starlink already employs, so last week sent a letter urging America's communications regulator - the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - to make a prompt decision.

Amazon's letter suggested swift approval of its preferred regulations will preserve American leadership, close the digital divide, and bring innovation to all.

The document also said Amazon's ideal arrangements for non-geostationary-orbit fixed satellite service (NGSO FSS) operators would mean such outfits can "deploy innovative new systems licensed in later processing rounds."

That's a fancy way of saying Amazon wants the door kept open for it to expand Kuiper's use of radio spectrum in future – "processing rounds" refers to the allocation of radio frequency space to operators.

Billionaire fight!

The FCC's most recent position on spectrum sharing – which allows multiple providers to use the same frequencies to reduce crowding – is that only NGSO FSS systems approved in the same spectrum processing round will be able to share frequencies. 

"The FCC also proposes to adopt a rule providing that later-round NGSO FSS systems will have to protect earlier-round systems," the commission said in a rule it proposed in March 2022 after opening comments for the rule in late 2021. 

Those rules were proposed to the FCC by Elon Musk's SpaceX, which sought clarification of spectrum sharing regulations used in earlier processing rounds. However, SpaceX also said it supported sunsetting protections for earlier round systems "after a period of time" – which the FCC didn't specify in its proposed rule. SpaceX.

There's been plenty of back and forth between Amazon, SpaceX, and the FCC ever since.

Amazon eventually urged the FCC to adopt "limited but feasible" forms of spectrum sharing rules to help NGSO FSS operators coordinate their constellations, "while continuing to encourage the development of more robust sharing solutions in the future."

In other words, just pass some regulations that help us out and sort the particulars for everyone else later.

SpaceX does not like that idea.

In a letter sent to the FCC last week, SpaceX described itself as "the only operator with constellations currently being deployed," and that "rather than deploying satellites, Amazon only deploys its legions of lawyers and lobbyists to twist this proceeding to its self-interest."

So, not worrying too much about diplomatic language then.

By trying to convince the FCC to pass rules now and settle particulars later, SpaceX said Amazon is opposed to "well-considered rules." SpaceX claimed in its letter that Amazon's proposal was "overwhelmingly opposed" by commenters, who SpaceX said see it as "cheapening the value of commission licenses".

SpaceX also said Amazon's approach ignores information sharing concerns, which could see it required to hand over proprietary information.

That's a reasonable point as Amazon's proposed information sharing rules would require NGSO FSS operators to disclose satellite and gateway location information, in the cause of avoiding potential interference and thereby making spectrum sharing easier to implement.

It isn't immediately clear if the FCC is planning to issue a ruling on spectrum sharing soon, and the commission didn't respond to our questions. Neither did Amazon or SpaceX, for that matter.

Which leaves the matter up in the air - a metaphor that almost describes the perfect state for satellite broadband. ®

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