Musk lashes out at Biden administration over rural broadband

Claims FCC's justification for ditching Starlink 'utterly false'

Elon Musk has reacted angrily to the Biden administration pledging millions of dollars to bolster high-speed internet access.

Last week, Biden's account on Musk's X platform announced that another $82 million would be invested to connect a further 16,000 homes and businesses to high-speed internet across North Carolina.

Trump-appointed FCC Commission Brendan Carr pointed out that by dint of simple arithmetic, the cost per location would come to $5,125. He added that in 2020, the FCC secured a commitment from Starlink to offer high-speed internet for just $1,377 per location.

The problem stems from the FCC's decision to reject SpaceX's $885 million bid to supply broadband to rural areas via Starlink. The biz had been given tentative approval from the regulator for the cash from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), though the offer was withdrawn in mid-2022.

(The year before, the FCC was a bit ticked off that SpaceX was seemingly applying for rural broadband funding to provide satellite-based coverage for, er, parking lots and airports, we note.)

That 2022 decision was reiterated in 2023 following a 3-2 vote by commissioners down party lines. The FCC decided that the chance of Starlink actually fulfilling the watchdog's goals for better rural broadband coverage was not worth risking nearly a billion dollars over ten years.

One of the technical issues highlighted was that Starlink would not be able to provide the 100/20 Mbps low-latency service required. The FCC wrote [PDF]: "After reviewing all of the information submitted by Starlink, the Bureau ultimately concluded that Starlink had not shown that it was reasonably capable of fulfilling RDOF's requirements to deploy a network of the scope, scale, and size required to serve the 642,925 model locations in 35 states for which it was the winning bidder."

However, Carr and Musk have proven unable to let it lie in light of the Biden administration's connectivity boasts. According to Carr: "Starlink didn't miss any milestone. The FCC requirement for them to provide 100/20 did not kick in until December 2025 and, in any event, they are already offering service at those speeds in areas."

Musk similarly chimed in, describing the FCC's reasons as "utterly false," before acknowledging that bandwidth in high-density areas might be lower during peak times. "But this award is specifically for low population density areas of the country, where 300Mbps is normal."

Carr issued a dissenting statement regarding the FCC decision in 2023 and suggested that Musk's acquisition of Twitter had led to Biden giving "federal agencies a green light to go after him." He went on to suggest that running fiber lines to the areas that would have been served by Starlink would cost somewhere in the order of $3 billion rather than the $885 million tentatively agreed for Musk's constellation.

There are arguments to be made on either side. Fiber connectivity, while expensive, is likely to be a good deal more future-proof than connectivity from a broadband satellite constellation. However, that same broadband satellite constellation would mean a less expensive and swifter rollout.

And X is just the platform to have those careful and reasoned arguments. Right? ®

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