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Court denies Viasat attempt to halt Starlink launches pending legal action

Starlink launch

TAMPA, Fla. — A federal appeals court denied a motion from satellite operator Viasat to stop SpaceX from enlarging its Starlink megaconstellation.

Viasat had requested a stay on a SpaceX license modification that allows it to continue building out the low-Earth-orbit constellation, while legal action seeking to compel a thorough environmental review of the broadband network plays out through the court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled July 20 that Viasat, which operates broadband satellites in geostationary orbit, “has not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review.”

The court also granted a motion to expedite the appeal, setting dates that end with an Oct. 26 deadline for final briefs to clear the way for oral arguments.

Satellite broadcaster Dish Network also objected to SpaceX’s license modification and its case is part of Viasat’s appeal.

Viasat first sought a stay from the Federal Communications Commission on SpaceX’s April 27 license modification, enabling it to continue expanding a constellation estimated to now exceed 1,600 satellites at an altitude of around 550-kilometers.

The company gave the FCC until the end of June 1 to grant the order, before submitting the motion to the same court that will decide whether the regulator was legally obligated to assess Starlink’s environmental impact before modifying its license.

The modification gives SpaceX permission to operate 4,408 satellites at 550-kilometers, instead of just 1,584 in this orbit and 2,825 at altitudes of 1,100 to 1,300-kilometers. 

Decreasing the distance between a satellite and Earth reduces signal lag for latency-critical applications including video calls and gaming. 

However, Viasat said the rapidly expanding megaconstellation poses orbital debris, light pollution and other environmental risks.

SpaceX has continued to deploy Starlink satellites amid the legal action, although the cadence has slowed as it works through launch missions for other customers.

Viasat is also calling on the FCC to review nearly $900 million of rural broadband subsidies that SpaceX won in December for Starlink.

In an application filed June 1, Viasat asked the FCC to review why it was not permitted to bid for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.


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Viasat wants FCC to review Starlink’s government funding

TAMPA, Fla. — Satellite operator Viasat is stepping up efforts to stop Starlink’s growing constellation, taking aim at the nearly $900 million of rural broadband subsidies that SpaceX won in December. 

The operator is asking the Federal Communications Commission to review decisions made around the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), claiming differential treatment and a lack of transparency.

In an Application for Review (AFR) filed June 1, Viasat calls on the regulator to probe a series of decisions related to bidding to provide low-latency internet service under RDOF’s Phase 1, also known as Auction 904.

Viasat initially filed its AFR with the FCC Jan. 29, on a confidential basis, to review why it was not permitted to bid for the subsidies with its proposed low Earth orbit constellation, despite already operating broadband satellites in geostationary orbit.

Mark Dankberg, Viasat’s co-founder and executive chair, outlined a LEO constellation of nearly 300 satellites in May, 2020, operating higher than Starlink’s current network at 1,300 kilometers. SpaceX currently operates more than 1,600 Starlink satellites at about 550-kilometers, where it is licensed to deploy around 4,400 in total.

According to Viasat, decisions made by the FCC’s Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force, Office of Economics and Analytics and Wireline Competition Bureau “improperly discriminate against Viasat and treat it in a fundamentally different fashion than” SpaceX.

In a June 1 letter to FCC acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel, Viasat added that “this disparate treatment has continued after the end of” RDOF’s Phase 1 auction.  

“Among other things, the Bureaus have suggested that there is an overarching need for transparency with respect to the Commission’s ongoing review of whether Viasat was in fact eligible to participate in Auction 904 and ultimately win RDOF support,” it wrote.

“However, the Bureaus have seemingly abandoned their commitment to transparency in the case of SpaceX — which is poised to receive approximately $885 million in RDOF support even though there are significant doubts about its ability to satisfy its RDOF performance obligations.”

In a separate document filed with the FCC June 1, Viasat detailed analysis it says shows Starlink will be unable to meet the coverage and capacity commitments that SpaceX made to secure RDOF funding.

Viasat cited suggestions from SpaceX that technological advances will enable it to overcome any issue, but said relying on unproven upgrades conflicts with the FCC’s RDOF framework.

SpaceX was unable to comment before this article was published.

SpaceX’s share of the $9.2 billion awarded in total under RDOF’s Phase 1 auction was one of the largest among 180 successful bidders. Hughes Network Systems was the only other satellite provider to win funds from the auction, securing under $1.3 million.

RDOF Phase 1 subsidies will be distributed to successful bidders over the next 10 years to connect around 5.2 million unserved homes and businesses with broadband in rural parts of the United States. Under SpaceX’s Phase 1 commitments, Starlink has to provide high-speed internet services to nearly 643,000 homes and businesses in 35 states.

We believe the FCC did not act in complete transparency or fairness and applied fundamentally different standards to similarly situated satellite operators,” John Janka, Viasat’s chief officer of government and regulatory affairs, said in an emailed statement. 

“We think it is reasonable to expect U.S. government agencies to uphold the highest principles and, to ensure parity in competition — especially in connection with a program that will distribute billions of taxpayer dollars.” 

Stopping on environmental grounds

Viasat is set to head to court June 2 in an effort to stop SpaceX from launching more Starlink satellites on environmental grounds.

The Carlsbad, California-based company recently gave the FCC until the end of June 1 to stay an April 27 license modification, which has been enabling SpaceX to continue building out the constellation at an altitude of around 550-kilometers.

If the FCC does not grant a stay order, Viasat intends to seek one from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

That is the same court where Viasat intends to argue that the FCC was legally obligated to thoroughly assess Starlink’s environmental impact before approving the license modification.

Five days after Viasat called on the FCC May 21 to stay Starlink’s license modification, SpaceX launched another batch of 60 satellites to expand the constellation at 550-kilometers.

Before the modification, SpaceX was only permitted to operate 1,584 satellites at 550-kilometers, with permission for 2,825 more in orbits of 1,100 to 1,300-kilometers.

The modification reduces Starlink’s signal lag for video calls, gaming and other latency-critical applications because there is less distance between the satellites in space and antennas on the ground.


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Viasat asks FCC to halt Starlink launches while it seeks court ruling

Starlink Screenshot

TAMPA, Fla. — Satellite operator Viasat is asking the FCC to stop SpaceX from launching more Starlink satellites as it heads to court to compel a thorough environmental review of the rapidly growing megaconstellation.

On Friday, Viasat formally asked the Federal Communications Commission to stay an April 27 license modification that allows SpaceX to continue building out the broadband constellation, which already numbers more than 1,600 satellites.

Starlink surpassed the 1,584 satellites permitted under its previous license in 550-kilometer orbits soon after launching a fresh batch of 52 satellites May 15. SpaceX is slated to launch 60 more May 26.

Viasat’s bid to stop or at least slow Starlink’s expansion rests on convincing a federal appeals court that the FCC was legally obligated to assess the megaconstellation’s environmental impact before approving SpaceX’s request to more than double the number of satellites it intends to operate from 550 kilometers. 

The FCC originally approved a 4,409-satellite constellation, which included 2,825 satellites in orbits of 1,100 to 1,300 kilometers and 1,584 satellites at 550 kilometers. The FCC approved on April 27 a SpaceX application to modify that license, moving the satellites in the higher orbits to 550 kilometers and tweaking the size of the overall constellation to 4,408 satellites. 

The company says it sought the modification to reduce latency, or signal lag, between space and the ground to improve video calls, gaming and other activities on the network.

In December, the FCC awarded SpaceX $890 million under the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which aims to bring broadband service to unserved homes and businesses in the United States. Low latency was a key qualifying criterion for receiving funding.  

Stopping Starlink

Of the more than 1,600 Starlink satellites in orbit, roughly 700 have launched since January. A Falcon 9 launch slated for May 26 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, would be the 13th Starlink launch of 2021. 

Viasat is asking the FCC to hit pause on further launches until federal courts can review the legality of the license modification. 

Carlsbad, California-based Viasat, which provides broadband services from geostationary orbit (GEO), had petitioned the FCC to conduct an environmental review before granting the license modification as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which currently categorically exempts satellite systems, but says this did not happen despite megaconstellations bringing new considerations for regulators.

Some astronomers had also requested an environmental assessment, worried about how the constellation’s reflectivity affects ground-based telescope observations. 

The FCC by and large rejected the requests when it approved the license modification, although it did urge SpaceX to continue to work closely with astronomers to mitigate the brightness of its satellites. The FCC offered several reasons for not performing an environmental assessment, from questioning whether light pollution is covered by NEPA to noting that the Federal Aviation Administration does its own environmental reviews as part of the launch licensing process.

Viasat said in a May 21 filing to the FCC that NEPA required it to at least consider environmental harms before granting SpaceX’s application, such as orbital debris, light pollution and the effect disintegrating satellites could have on the atmosphere. 

“We believe the FCC failed to conduct a legally required environmental review under NEPA and did not honor the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to a science-based approach to protecting the atmosphere, the Earth’s climate, space and the well-being of U.S. citizens before authorizing the launch of thousands of new Starlink satellites into low-earth orbit,” John Janka, Viasat’s chief officer for global government and regulatory affairs, said in an emailed statement.

“As such, we have asked the Commission to stay its order until the federal courts review its legality.” 

If the FCC does not grant a stay by June 1, Viasat intends to go to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where it will seek a stay and review of the modification order.

SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment.

In April, former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine joined Viasat’s board of directors.

Bridenstine told SpaceNews in an interview at the time that the threat of megaconstellations to space safety, and the overall space access environment, were among issues on his radar.

Viasat is developing a three-satellite ViaSat-3 broadband constellation in geostationary orbit (GEO) that will expand its operations globally, providing three terabits per second of throughput.

The first Viasat-3 satellite will serve the Americas, targeting a launch early next year.

Space News Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this story from Washington


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Viasat asks FCC to perform environmental review of Starlink

WASHINGTON — Viasat has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to perform an environmental review of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation, arguing that the satellite system poses environmental hazards in space and on Earth.

In a Dec. 22 filing, Viasat formally requested that the FCC conduct either an environmental assessment or more rigorous environmental impact statement of Starlink before approving a SpaceX request to modify its existing license for the system so that it can operate nearly 3,000 more satellites in lower orbits.

Satellite systems have long had what’s known as a categorical exemption from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies like the FCC to assess the environmental impacts of their actions. That exemption, implemented in the mid-1980s by the FCC, was based on analysis at the time that launches of individual satellites would not have measurable effects on the environment.

The size of SpaceX’s Starlink system, currently authorized for approximately 12,000 satellites, changes that calculus, Viasat argued in its petition. “But given the sheer quantity of satellites at issue here, as well as the unprecedented nature of SpaceX’s treatment of them as effectively expendable, the potential environmental harms associated with SpaceX’s proposed modification are significant,” the company stated.

“Relying on the Commission’s decades-old categorical exemption to avoid even inquiring into the environmental consequences of SpaceX’s modification proposal would not only violate NEPA, but also would needlessly jeopardize the environmental, aesthetic, health, safety, and economic interests that it seeks to protect, and harm the public interest,” Viasat continued (emphasis in original.)

Part of the petition addresses orbital debris. Viasat has been a strident critic in FCC filings in recent months about the reliability of Starlink satellites and concerns that satellites that fail in orbit could add to the growing debris population in LEO. The company has cited statistics that claimed a failure rate as high as 7%, although that included many of the original “v0.9” Starlink satellites launched in May 2019 that SpaceX has been deliberately deorbiting over the last several months.

SpaceX has countered that its on-orbit failure rate is far lower, but Viasat argued that the FCC should assess the overall risk of increased collisions as part of an environmental review. “The Commission cannot take SpaceX’s word for it that the thousands of satellites it is seeking to pack into a lower orbit will not materially increase the risks of collisions and produce excessive space debris — especially because SpaceX knows that when its satellites do collide with other space objects and fragment or fail, it can always launch more,” it stated.

Viasat’s argument for an environmental review goes beyond orbital debris. It claims that both the launch and reentry of Starlink satellites poses environmental hazards, from the production of ozone-destroying chemicals by launch vehicles to chemicals released in the atmosphere when satellites burn up on reentry and debris that reaches the ground.

The petition cites research by The Aerospace Corporation on atmospheric impacts of launches and reentries. At the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union earlier this month, the organization presented research that concluded that the rise of satellite megaconstellations could increase the mass of satellites reentering the atmosphere from about 100 metric tons a year to as much as 3,200 metric tons.

The Aerospace study, though, only found a potential for environmental impacts caused by an increasing number of reentering satellites, and said that further study on what those impacts could be is needed. “Our preliminary work simply suggests that given the present and anticipated increase in large constellations, there is potential for environmental impact, and further study is therefore recommended,” William Ailor, technical fellow with the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, told SpaceNews.

A third line of argument for an environmental review is the effect Starlink will have on the night sky. The petition noted concerns astronomers have voiced since the first cluster of Starlink satellites launched in 2019 that the constellation could interfere with astronomical observations, and could also have cultural impacts.

Satellites in lower orbits, Viasat added, would be brighter. “The Commission’s decision thus will directly affect the amount of light pollution in the environment, placing NEPA responsibilities squarely on the Commission’s shoulders,” the company stated.

Viasat’s petition is the not the first attempt to request an environmental review of Starlink. In April, Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) asked the Government Accountability Office to examine the FCC’s categorical exemption for satellite systems. It cited in particular light pollution concerns from an unnamed satellite constellation with a description similar to Starlink. A paper published in a law review journal in January also proposed invoking NEPA regarding the impacts of Starlink on astronomy.

The GAO hasn’t publicly responded to the senators’ request. However, astronomers have since reported they’re pleased with the level of cooperation with SpaceX to mitigate the impacts of the Starlink constellation on their observations. That has included the incorporation of visors on Starlink satellites to prevent sunlight from reflecting off the satellites and thus reducing their brightness.

“SpaceX is leading the charge in terms of trying to understand these issues and designing mitigations on their satellites,” Tony Tyson, chief scientist of the Vera Rubin Observatory, said at an August briefing about a workshop held earlier this summer on the topic.

SpaceX hasn’t commented on the Viasat FCC filing. The company has held a series of ex parte meetings with FCC staff this month on its proposed modification of its Starlink license, according to filings with the commission, including a request to launch a set of Starlink satellites into a sun-synchronous orbital plane to take advantage of an unspecified “upcoming polar launch availability.”


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SpaceX, Hughes and Viasat qualify to bid for $20.4 billion in FCC rural broadband subsidies

Falcon 9 Starlink 10 launch
WASHINGTON — SpaceX, Hughes Network Systems and Viasat are eligible to compete for a share of the $20.4 billion in broadband subsidies the FCC plans to dole out under the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) starting later this month.
The Federal Communications Commission on Oct. 13 released a list  of “qualified bidders” for the RDOF funds, which will be awarded via reverse auction to telecom providers bidding to bring subsidized voice and broadband internet services to rural communities and other underserved parts of the United States.
More than 400 telecom providers, including SpaceX, Hughes and Viasat, made the FCC’s list of qualified bidders.
Inclusion on the list makes them eligible to participate in an RDOF reverse auction set to begin Oct. 29.  That’s when the FCC will begin accepting bids from telecom providers for delivering services to some 6 million homes and businesses in census blocks entirely unserved by voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbs. A second round of awards, the dates for which haven’t been set, will expand the program to cover partially served locations as well as locations passed over during the first round.
While there was little doubt among that Hughes and ViaSat would make the list of qualified bidders, SpaceX’s inclusion wasn’t a given because the Starlink constellation does not yet offer commercial service.
In the lead up to the competition, satellite operators complained that the RDOF rules put too much emphasis on low signal latency, which they say will make it too tough to win a share of the funds.
Hughes and Viasat have long provided consumer internet services via geostationary satellites, building and launching new satellites providing fast enough downloads to meet the FCC’s definition of broadband. However, geostationary satellites —  because they orbit some 36,000 kilometers above the equator — suffer a roughly 1/2-signal lag that disqualifies them from competing as low-latency services, defined by the FCC as 100 milliseconds or less lag.
To achieve lower latency and qualify for additional FCC broadband subsidies, Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg has discussed the idea of launching a constellation of 288 satellites in low Earth orbit. Pradman Kaul, Hughes Network Systems president, said the firm’s $50 million investment in OneWeb means the company could offer LEO broadband in the FCC reverse auction.
SpaceX is going for faster speeds and lower latency than GEO broadband by deploying thousands of broadband satellites into low Earth orbit, boosting network capacity and reducing signal travel times. The company has launched more than 700 Starlink satellites since 2018 but has yet to introduce commercial service. While SpaceX has told the FCC that the low orbits chosen for Starlink ensure it can outperform the 100 millisecond, the FCC said this summer it remained unconvinced.


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Hughes views OneWeb stake as key to FCC broadband subsidies

WASHINGTON — Hughes Network Systems believes it has a chance at winning some of the $20.4 billion in rural broadband subsidies the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is preparing to spend, thanks to the company’s recent investment in megaconstellation startup OneWeb. 

The FCC will evaluate satellite internet alongside fiber and other broadband delivery methods in October for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) subsidies meant to finance infrastructure to connect millions of homes and small businesses across the country. The program favors lag-free, high capacity services, a preference that has led satellite operators to offer low-Earth-orbit (LEO) connections in their efforts to win funding. 

Pradman Kaul, Hughes president, said the company’s $50 million investment into OneWeb, announced last month, has cleared a path for Hughes to offer LEO broadband for the FCC program. 

Hughes, like rival Viasat, remains convinced that geostationary satellites can beam internet less expensively and with higher throughputs than LEO constellations. But the FCC’s emphasis on latency drove the company to offer a LEO solution anyway.

“Although GEO has the economic advantage over LEOs in the rural low-density markets, the RDOF market program could potentially subsidize a LEO service offering due to the latency rules,” Kaul said during an Aug. 6 earnings call. “Based on our recent announcement, we have the opportunity now to augment our GEO offerings with OneWeb capacity and have more favorable positioning for RDOF funding.”

OneWeb, with 74 of a planned 650 satellites in orbit, cannot yet provide service, and is still being purchased out of bankruptcy by the British government and Indian telecommunications giant Bharti Global. The megaconstellation company’s new backers have pledged $1 billion to revive the company, in addition to Hughes’ $50 million stake. OneWeb Satellites, the joint venture of OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space tasked with building the OneWeb megaconstellation, has continued to build satellites through the bankruptcy of its co-owner and largest customer. 

Hughes and OneWeb will compete for RDOF funds against Viasat, which in May outlined a 288-satellite LEO constellation to the FCC as a means to participate in the subsidy program. 

Canadian satellite operator Telesat, which is planning a constellation of 300 LEO internet satellites, has urged the FCC to consider its future system for RDOF funds, as has SpaceX for Starlink, which has around 600 of an initial 4,400 satellites in orbit.

Kaul, during the earnings call, said he expects the majority of the FCC’s RDOF funding will go toward deploying fiber and, to a lesser extent, fixed wireless in rural areas with appreciable population densities. A “modest” amount of funding will likely go to the more sparsely populated geographies Hughes pursues for customers, he said. 

RDOF aside, Kaul said Hughes expects hybrid networks comprised of satellites in different orbits to become the industry norm as more operators diversify from GEO. 

“In this hybrid structure, LEOs can deliver ubiquitous coverage and low latency, while GEOs bring high capacity at the lowest possible cost wherever needed,” he said. 

Hughes’ next satellite, the 500-gigabit-per-second Jupiter-3, is projected to launch in the second half of 2021, though the company has yet to select a launch provider. 


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LEO constellations still held to high bar in FCC rural broadband subsidy program

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission remains unconvinced that low Earth orbit satellite internet constellations are worth subsidizing through its $16 billion rural broadband program despite tweaking the rules for that program to give LEO constellations a better chance to qualify for funding. 

In a move meant to benefit the likes of SpaceX, Telesat, Viasat and others, the FCC said June 9 it will allow LEO broadband constellations to compete for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund subsidies as a low-latency service. Before adopting the rule change, all satellites were categorized as high latency regardless of orbit, a classification that hurt satellite operators’ chances of receiving subsidies under a program that favors low latency and high data rates.

However, LEO broadband providers must still convince the FCC that their networks can deliver the kind of lag-free experience that internet customers expect for video conferencing and other interactive services. Satellite operators will compete with cable operators and other terrestrial providers for subsidies as the FCC seeks to encourage the deployment of low-cost, future-proofed broadband systems in underserved parts of the United States.

The FCC amended the rules after one of its commissioners, Michael O’Rielly, convinced FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to give LEO constellations the opportunity to show the FCC they can compete with terrestrial broadband networks. 

“I am grateful to the chairman for agreeing to expand eligibility for the low-latency performance tier and change language that was prejudicial to certain providers,” O’Rielly said June 9 during an open meeting the FCC held as a video teleconference due to ongoing restrictions on in-person gatherings. 

“[N]ext-generation satellite broadband holds tremendous technological promise for addressing the digital divide and is led by strong American companies with a lengthy record of success,” another FCC commissioner, Geoffrey Starks, said in support of the change. “Commission staff should evaluate those applications on their own merits.”

Pai, however, warned that allowing LEO broadband operators to compete in a category previously off limits to satellites doesn’t guarantee success. LEO applicants competing as low-latency systems “will be given very close scrutiny,” he said. 

“The purpose of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is to ensure that Americans have access to broadband, no matter where they live,” Pai said during the open meeting. “It is not a technology incubator to fund untested technologies, and we will not allow taxpayer funding to be wasted.”

An uphill fight for satellite operators

The FCC approved the change June 9, but did not release the full text of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund’s rules until June 11. In the 121-page public notice, the FCC said that while it will allow LEO satellite operators to compete for subsidies as low-latency providers, their systems — all of which are either still in development or the early stages of deployment — will be carefully scrutinized. 

Any broadband providers wishing to qualify to participate in a reverse auction scheduled for Oct. 29 must submit “short-form applications” to the FCC by July 15 detailing how they will meet the agency’s criteria. 

The FCC, in releasing the new rules, said it has “serious doubts that any low earth orbit networks will be able to meet the short-form application requirements for bidding in the low latency tier.”

LEO constellations that bid as low-latency networks, rather than challenge GEO providers in the only category of the competition open to high-latency services, will “face a substantial challenge demonstrating to Commission staff that their networks can deliver real-world performance to consumers below the Commission’s 100 [millisecond] low-latency threshold,” the FCC said in its public notice. 

The agency specifically dismissed SpaceX’s assertion that the 550-kilometer orbit chosen for its Startlink constellation ensures the network will outperform the agency’s latency threshold. Closer orbits do result in less lag time, since signals have shorter distances to travel, but network processing times add to the total amount of latency. 

SpaceX told the FCC in a February presentation that Starlink will deliver less than 50 milliseconds of latency, but did not cite a demonstrated transmission speed. The Hawthorne, California-based company has launched the first 482 of thousands of planned Starlink satellites, making it the front-runner in deploying a LEO broadband network, with limited service expected to start in the United States and Canada late this year. 

OneWeb, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March after launching 74 of a planned 650 satellites, did not submit comments to the FCC about the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The company’s launch program has stalled while it attempts to sell its spectrum rights. 

Canada-based geostationary satellite operator Telesat said in a June news release that the prototype LEO broadband satellite it launched more than two years ago demonstrated latencies of 30-60 milliseconds during testing. Telesat told the FCC in March that Telesat LEO will be “indistinguishable” from terrestrial internet as far as signal lag is concerned. However, Telesat  has not selected a manufacturer to build its constellation, and doesn’t expect to start limited service any sooner than 2022. 

Viasat, which relies on geostationary satellites to deliver residential internet service that can’t deliver the same high speeds as fiber optic and cable services, told the FCC last month it is willing to build a LEO broadband constellation if it can win a meaningful chunk of the FCC’s subsidies. The Carlsbad, California company was the only satellite operator to win funding in the FCC’s previous rural broadband program, the Connect America Fund 2, in 2018. 

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will award a total of $20.4 billion in two phases. The first phase, which runs through 2030, will dole out up to $16 billion to existing and prospective providers who convince the FCC they can build affordable high-speed, low-latency broadband networks to connect underserved rural regions of the United States. The second phase, the dates and rules for which haven’t been set, will allocate the remaining $4.4 billion. 

The FCC’s O’Rielly, speaking  during the agency’s open meeting, said the second phase presents another chance to revisit the FCC’s criteria. 

“Communications technology evolves at an extremely rapid pace, and who knows which technologies will have advanced or emerged by the time we get to Phase 2?” he said.