Everything Is Just Dandy!

FCC gets 90,000+ comments from Starlink users protesting Dish mobile service

Ars Technica
Jon Brodkin
2022-07-07
https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2022/07/fcc-gets-90000-comments-from-starlink-users-protesting-dish-mobile-service/

A Starlink satellite dish.

The Federal Communications Commission has received over 90,000 comments from Starlink users urging the agency to side with SpaceX in a spectrum battle against Dish Network. The comments were all submitted since last week when SpaceX asked Starlink customers to weigh in on an FCC proceeding that seeks public input on the “feasibility of allowing mobile services in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band while protecting incumbents from harmful interference.”

Dish wants to use the 12 GHz band for mobile service and says that sharing the spectrum wouldn’t significantly degrade satellite broadband. SpaceX says the plan would cause “harmful interference [to Starlink users] more than 77 percent of the time and total outage of service 74 percent of the time, rendering Starlink unusable for most Americans.” The satellite downlink band used by Starlink extends from 10.7 GHz to 12.7 GHz. SpaceX says it uses most of that but not the 10.7-10.95 GHz portion because it’s adjacent to radio astronomy systems.

The Starlink email was sent to users on June 28. There were a little over 200 comments in the 18-month-old proceeding’s docket at that time, mostly from satellite or telecom companies and lobbyist or advocacy groups.

Since then, the comments appear to come almost entirely from people submitting SpaceX’s pre-written message, in some cases unaltered and in others with the commenter’s opinions or personal experiences using Starlink added in. Many Starlink users told the FCC they live in rural parts of the US and have no other viable broadband options. It’s possible a single person can file multiple comments under different names, but it’s clear that the SpaceX plea resulted in an outpouring of support from people who use Starlink.

The pace of commenting hasn’t slowed down in recent days. PCMag reported on Tuesday that the “SpaceX petition protesting Dish Network has resulted in 70,000 Starlink users bombarding the FCC with messages urging the US regulator to protect the satellite Internet system.” There are now over 95,700 comments in the docket. The official comment period on the 12 GHz question came and went last year, but the agency hasn’t ruled on the proceeding yet.

User comments show Starlink’s importance to rural areas

SpaceX’s email to users directed them to a webpage titled, “Don’t Let Dish Disable Your Internet.” It contains a form for submitting comments with a pre-written message that says in part, “Allowing an entirely new use of this spectrum would significantly interfere with my broadband Internet connection, which I have come to rely on. The FCC should be focused on expanding connectivity to Americans, especially those without service or with poor service. It should not be focused on changing the rules to satisfy speculative and poorly defined technologies and individuals who have no clear plans to help close the digital divide.”

Whether SpaceX’s analysis is correct is a question that FCC staff will try to answer when they review all the data. Whatever the outcome, the large number of Starlink users who chose to add their own experiences to the pre-written comment help demonstrate the importance of SpaceX’s low Earth orbit satellites in parts of the country neglected by cable and fiber ISPs. Here’s a sampling of some of the comments that we found looking through the docket today:

  • I have a ranch in rural Texas and the various satellite Internet services in our area were so slow as to be unusable with today’s Internet needs. We installed Starlink and the service is on par with services in the city. It is the only viable Internet service for our needs.
  • I live in an RV and the only useable Internet I have found has been Starlink. It has enabled me to continue my schooling from home hassle-free, without the use of sub-par cellular hotspot Internet.
  • I live in a rural county of Northern California and we don’t have other options for Internet! We otherwise have frequent outages and pay a lot more than what Starlink charges for sub-par service.
  • Living in a remote location in Wisconsin, access to high-speed Internet is limited… Starlink provides this type of Internet service while most providers in the area are limited and have data caps. It’s the 21st century, high-speed Internet without data caps should be the norm.
  • I am a current Starlink user and it is the only reasonable Internet provider in my rural area. Without access to Starlink I would be unable to work from my home and my property value would be significantly diminished.
  • I live in rural Montana. My only access to the Internet and telephone is via Starlink. If we lose this service we will be totally isolated. Dish does not provide Internet or phone service in our area.
  • I am a farmer and we had no service until Starlink was available. I had experienced Dish Internet in the past and it is not reliable for commercial purposes. (Dish is mostly known for satellite TV but it also launched a DishNET satellite Internet service in 2012 that was apparently discontinued in 2017.)
  • Before I received Starlink, I could only access the Internet using a mobile hotspot and the system was horrible. I had to leave my home and use public Wi-Fi to download movies and games. With Starlink, I am able to download movies and games as quickly as I could when I had cable Internet. Please do not allow Dish network to cause interference with Starlink.

It’s not clear how many people use Starlink in the US, but SpaceX says it has over 400,000 subscribers worldwide.