The Federal Communications Commission is not convinced that SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network will be able to deliver the low latencies promised by CEO Elon Musk. As a result, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing limits on SpaceX’s ability to apply for funding from a $16 billion rural-broadband program.
While traditional satellite broadband generally suffers from latency of about 600ms, Musk saysthat Starlink will offer “latency below 20 milliseconds, so somebody could play a fast-response video game at a competitive level.”
Everyone expects Starlink to offer much lower latency than traditional satellites because SpaceX satellites are being launched in low Earth orbits ranging from 540km to 570km. By contrast, geostationary satellites used for broadband orbit at about 35,000km.
“SpaceX claims that because its low-Earth orbit satellite system operates at ‘an altitude of 550 kilometers,’ it can deliver roundtrip latency at less than 50ms,” according to a public draft of Pai’s proposed rules for the $16 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund distribution. But the FCC plans to classify SpaceX and all other satellite operators as high-latency providers for purposes of the funding distribution, saying the providers haven’t proven they can deliver low-latency broadband.
The proposal, released yesterday, is scheduled for a vote by the five-member commission at its June 9 meeting. The $16 billion in phone and broadband subsidies will be distributed in a reverse auction scheduled to begin on October 29. ISPs can seek funding in census blocks where no provider offers home-Internet speeds of at least 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream.
ISPs that aren’t expected to provide latency below 100ms will be at a disadvantage because the FCC will prioritize low-latency networks when awarding funding. Pai’s plan would put SpaceX and other satellite providers into the high-latency category, even though SpaceX says its latency will be much lower than 100ms:’