Carr slams FCC Starlink decision denying RDOF funds

Commissioner Brandon Carr blasted a move by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this month to deny Starlink the $885.5 million it won in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, calling its decision a “clear error” that will leave more than half a million locations on the wrong side of the digital divide.

While the ruling initially caught Carr by surprise, he promised at the time he’d have more to say on the matter. This week, he followed through, listing his objections to the decision in a two-page press release.

In a public notice, the FCC said a review of Starlink’s long-form application determined the company would not be able to meet its RDOF service obligations. Among other things, it noted Starlink provided “inadequate responses to the [Wireline Competition] Bureau’s follow-up questions” and pointed to recent Ookla data which showed a drop in Starlink speeds. Ultimately, the FCC concluded it could not in good conscience fund “risky proposals that promise faster speeds than they can deliver, and/or propose deployment plans that are not realistic or that are predicated on aggressive assumptions and predictions.”

But Carr argued the FCC’s findings don’t hold water. He claimed the Ookla data cited by the Commission actually showed a year-on-year increase in Starlink speeds and noted that the 100/20 Mbps speed benchmark Starlink had to meet wouldn’t kick in for another three years anyway.

“Particularly given the speeds Starlink is already offering and the pace with which it is continuing to launch satellites, the FCC’s decision offers no reasoned basis for determining that Starlink was incapable of meeting its regulatory obligations,” he wrote. Carr added the decision comes in contrast to faith other government entities are putting in Starlink, highlighting a recent $1.9 billion deal between Starlink and the Air Force for internet service at military bases.

To be clear, the Ookla data cited by the FCC in its decision showed Starlink’s download speeds increased 38% year-on-year to 90.55 Mbps, but uplink speeds fell 33% to 9.33 Mbps. At the time, Recon Analytics founder Roger Entner told Fierce he expected Starlink speeds to increase in the medium term as it pushed more satellites into orbit, but noted it was delivering below-benchmark performance on what is currently an uncongested network.

Carr also criticized the FCC’s mention of the high cost of Starlink equipment and services in its decision, stating the agency is “providing universal service awards for far slower internet services that cost consumers far more.”

Ultimately, Carr argued the FCC’s decision was a lose-lose for consumers, increasing both the amount of time and the amount of money it will take to get them connected. His statement did not include a mention of LTD Broadband, which also had its long-form RDOF application rejected.

The $885.5 million in support Starlink bid on in the RDOF auction was meant to help it serve 642,925 locations across 35 states. Carr estimated it would take “in the neighborhood of $3 billion” to run fiber to the same.