FCC announces billions of dollars in awards to provide rural areas with broadband access

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SpaceX joins Charter Communications, LTD Broadband and the Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium in receiving large grants
Christian Davenport

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and chief executive officer of Tesla. (Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg News)
So far the company has launched nearly 1,000 satellites as part of its Starlink constellation and has begun a pilot program in the northern United Statesand southern Canada it calls “Better Than Nothing.”
The company has approval to launch some 12,000 satellites, and as the
number increases, so will the reliability and speed of its service, the
company has said. It plans to expand its beta service by early next year and
“rapidly expanding to near global coverage of the populated world by 2021,” according to its website.

Biden, top Democrats lay groundwork for multibillion-dollar push to boost
U.S. broadband The funding gives SpaceX an even bigger lead over its competitors in the race to build the Internet in space. Recently, OneWeb emerged from bankruptcy and appointed a new CEO. Jeff Bezosʼs Amazon also intends to flood Earthʼs orbit with its own satellites in a project it calls Kuiper that it has said would bring broadband to “unserved and underserved communities around the world.” (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

In a statement, Pai said the awards would bring “welcome news to millions of unconnected rural Americans who for too long have been on the wrong side of the digital divide. They now stand to gain access to high-speed, high quality broadband service.” The winning bidders must provide financial
statements, coverage maps and certify that their network is capable of
delivering “to at least 95% of the required number of locations in each
relevant state,” the FCC said.

The announcement comes as Democrats and President-elect Biden are
pushing to dramatically increase funding for Internet spending next year,
helping to connect families and businesses that have been especially hurt
during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden has endorsed a relief bill that passed the House, which included $4
billion for low-income Americans struggling to access the Internet for work
or school. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who led a broadband task force, has said he expected the issue to be one of the top priorities for the incoming administration and that Congress would act.
“Broadband in this century must be treated as electricity was in the 20th
century,” he said.
Thousands more satellites could soon be launched into space. Can the
federal government keep up?
The biggest winners of the FCCʼs awards, which would be given out over 10
years, were LTD Broadband, Charter Communications and the Rural Electric
Cooperative Consortium, each receiving a little over $1 billion.
SpaceX finished near the top with a massive infusion of cash that could
provide the financial underpinning its Starlink project needs. In the past,
several companies tried and failed. Teledesic, a company funded in part by
Bill Gates in the mid-1990s, collapsed after costs soared. Attempts by
Iridium and Globalstar ended up in bankruptcy.
SpaceX has the advantage that it can launch its own satellites. And by using
reusable rockets, the cost has come down dramatically.
Its most recent launch of 60 Starlink satellites last month, for example, was
the seventh time that particular Falcon 9 rocket had been used, a record.
Still, Musk has said he knows the difficulty of what he is trying to achieve,
and in a call with reporters last year he said: “I do believe we will be
successful, but it is far from a sure thing.”
Tony Romm contributed to this report.