SpaceX Condemns Amazon’s Opposition To Starlink As Alaskan Support Gains Momentum

Ramish Zafar
SpaceX Starlink launch
SpaceX's Falcon 9 Block 5 booster number 1051 as it takes to the skies for the eighth time to deliver a batch of 60 Starlink satellites in January. Image: SpaceX/Twitter

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In meetings with FCC Commissioners' representatives, Space Exploration Technology Corp.'s (SpaceX) subsidiary SpaceX LLC. has hit hard at competitor Amazon's opposition to its proposed Starlink modification. SpaceX LLC's director of satellite policy Mr. David Goldman met with the representatives over the course of last week, and in these meetings, he reiterated SpaceX's claims that competitor statements of the Starlink modification causing interference to their systems are based on cherry-picked data and as such are not accurate representations of reality.

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Mr. Goldman's presentation made to the FCC officials builds up on SpaceX's latest shift in the narrative which first emerged earlier this month. While before 2021 started, the battle for Starlink modification was primarily between Amazon and SpaceX, with other firms joining in as side players, now SpaceX is taking a broad aim at all of its competitors.

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The first evidence for this surfaced during a presentation that the SpaceX executive made before Commission representatives during the third week of this month. Slide 12 of this presentation (pictured below) summarized all competitor arguments and rejected them in one broad scope by asserting that the claims did not represent all aspects of the modification together to reach their conclusions. These aspects are a lower altitude for Starlinks, a lower ground station elevation angle and a lower satellite downlink power level.

Building on this, Mr. Goldman's latest presentation now specifically takes aim at Amazon, whose subsidiary Kuiper Systems LLC has repeatedly stated before the Commission that the Starlink modification will end up in the satellites interfering with Kuiper's own spacecraft – a fact that according to Kuiper, will cloud its satellite visibility from ground stations, reduce the geographical area available to Kuiper for setting up ground stations and significantly increase the interference between Starlink and Amazon's satellite internet service.

SpaceX Amazon Starlink opposition reply
SpaceX OneWeb Kuiper Amazon no interference from Starlink

Public, Small Business Support Builds For Starlink - Amazon Yet To Respond To Accusation of ''Cherry-Picking" Data

According to him, Amazon's opposition to Starlink is nothing but an attempt to stifle competition, as the company lacks any 'standing' in the matter due to not having launched any satellites in orbit so far. In contrast to Amazon, some of Starlink's other detractors, such as Kepler, already have satellites in orbit, but the retail giant's satellite arm plans to build out a satellite mega constellation of its own and has claimed that the Starlink modification renders the entire FCC licensing process moot as it allows companies to significantly alter their systems after a license has been granted and harm future licensees' systems in the process.

Mr. Goldman's latest remarks use the fact that Amazon is yet to launch a single satellite to state that not only does the company lack standing to make any claims before the Commission, but also that it renders Amazon's behavior in demanding exclusive access to orbits for debris mitigation purposes anticompetitive. To further beef up his statements, the executive points out that so far Amazon has held 30 meetings with the FCC to oppose SpaceX's plans but it is yet to hold even one to authorize its system.

Other key Starlink facts present in the presentation include SpaceX's plans of increasing future downlink speeds to 10 Gbps. While Starlink has delivered up to 190 Mbps (!) in the downlink, users often find themselves encountering speeds as low as 30 Mbps -  an expected fact given that the system is currently in its second-stage beta. To mitigate this, SpaceX has also stated before the Commission that it is regularly updating Starlink software to improve throughput - making it the first time that such an admission has been made before the regulatory body.

As the FCC continues to evaluate SpaceX's modification request, public support for the service continues to build. After a schoolteacher in Utqiagvik, Alaska came out in support for Starlink, other voices have joined him.

One of these is Mr. John Wallace of Alaska Technologies, a non-profit technology support small business in Southwest Alaska. In a detailed letter to the FCC, Mr. Wallace outlines the difficulties of managing internet connectivity in Alaska following post-pandemic lockdowns. and uses his experience of working with companies to underscore the importance of satellite-internet to his state.

The second is Mr.Joel M. Thomas who is a teacher and administrator in Western Alaska. Mr. Thomas, like his peer, has also stated to the Commission that Starlink will enable his students to achieve equitable education. His letter filed before the body on Tuesday and dated for Monday reads as follows:

Dear Ms. Dortch,

I am a teacher and school administrator in western Alaska and am writing in support of the Star Link program . Our region’s main existing internet provider GCI provides a subpar service at an extreme premium price point; most families in Western Alaska including my own do not have internet service in their home because the cost is too high. We need more competition to increase the quality of service so that students and families can have a more reliable educational experience during the current pandemic and beyond. I have already signed up for Star Link should it become a viable service and am more than willing to make the initial investment in equipment.

Joel M. Thomas

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