Starlink appeals FCC denial of $885M RDOF subsidy

SpaceX subsidiary Starlink asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reconsider a decision to deny it $885.5 million in rural broadband funding, arguing the decision handed down in August was “flawed as a matter of both law and policy.”

The company filed what is known as an Application for Review with the Commission. Such applications are essentially appeals from an aggrieved party which ask the FCC to revisit actions taken on the grounds that they conflict with established statutes, regulations, precedent or policy or rely on a policy or precedent that should be changed or overturned.

Last month, the FCC rejected Starlink’s winning bids for $885.5 million in broadband subsidies from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, which were intended to help it connect more than 640,000 unserved locations in 35 states. At the time, the FCC cited Ookla data which showed Starlink’s broadband speeds were below the service benchmark set for its subsidies.

In its filing, however, Starlink claimed the FCC’s decision “rests on unsupported conjecture and outside-the-record information apparently cherry-picked from somewhere on the Internet.” It also accused the FCC of making the decision “in service to a clear bias towards fiber, rather than a merits-based decision to actually connect unserved Americans.”

It noted SpaceX has demonstrated an ability to quickly expand and upgrade its satellite network and pointed out that it actually isn’t required to meet RDOF’s speed requirements until 2025. Thus, Starlink argued the current Ookla speed tests have no relevance to its ability to meet its RDOF obligations.

“By 2025, the Starlink Network will have substantially more capacity than it did at the time of the speed tests in question,” it wrote. “Notably, at the time of Ookla’s Q1 measurements, SpaceX had launched less than half of the licensed 4,408 satellites in the Starlink Network, and some of those were still in orbit raise and not yet contributing to available capacity.”

Starlink also pointed out the FCC’s decision will leave hundreds of thousands of citizens unserved for potentially years to come. Not only will it take time for money from other government initiatives like the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program to be allocated to projects in those areas, it wrote, but it will also take time for service providers to finish buildouts there.

The company concluded the FCC’s decision was “grossly unfair” and said it has already invested millions of dollars in preparing to meet its RDOF obligations. It asked the FCC to reverse its ruling.

Starlink’s objections echo comments made by FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr in the wake of the August decision. Late last month, he issued a statement blasting the ruling, among other things noting the RDOF speed obligations wouldn’t kick in for another three years and the decision stood in contrast to faith the government had put in Starlink via service contracts.

LTD Broadband, which was also denied its RDOF subsidies, has not yet filed an Application for Review.