Satellite Broadband Options Like Starlink Shouldn’t Be Getting Precious Broadband Subsidies
from the future-proof dept
While Elon Musk often crows about his disdain for subsidies, Musk companies routinely hoover up billions in government assistance. For example, Starlink gamed the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) subsidy auction to nab nearly a billion dollars to deploy broadband to areas that didn’t need it: including some airport parking lots and a few parking medians.
Not too surprisingly, the fiber broadband industry isn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of government funding going to satellite broadband, in part because options like Starlink lack the kind of capacity needed to truly fix the U.S. broadband problem, and even Musk concedes they may not be financially viable over the longer haul, meaning that money could be wasted.
But Fiber Broadband Association CEO Gary Bolton notes that every time a satellite broadband company like Starlink gets awarded government broadband subsidies, it precludes another company willing to deliver faster, better fiber from getting that money:
Bolton noted that those homes are not eligible for deployments funded through other government programs that have come into being since the RDOF auction because they are supposed to get the SpaceX service [and] fiber broadband should be made available to everyone in the U.S. because it is the most future-proof technology available.
“We don’t want to be able to discriminate based on your zip code,” he said. “To solve societal issues, we have to make sure everyone has more bandwidth than they could ever use.”
While it’s not too surprising to see the fiber industry unhappy that other technologies are getting government subsidies, they’re not wrong. Organizations like the EFF have also repeatedly noted that if we’re going to subsidize broadband, that money should be going toward “future proof” fiber, with 5G and fixed wireless filling most of the gaps.
Low-orbit satellite broadband solutions like Starlink are fine, they’re just constrained by the laws of physics, which is why Starlink’s initial launch not only can only serve 500-800k subscribers max, but the 250,000 customers that have signed up are already seeing network slowdowns.
Starlink can and is a good niche solution for users without alternative options. But physics are physics, and it simply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be throwing millions of dollars at a billionaire-backed broadband solution that can’t scale and may not even exist in several years. If you put fiber in the ground, even if the company goes to hell, that fiber is still useful.