The pissing match before the FCC is heating up (again)
Amazon slammed Elon Musk’s SpaceX as a serial rule-breaker on Wednesday amid an enduring fight over the two companies’ plans to build rivaling satellite networks. The conflict, waged within lengthy filings to the Federal Communications Commission, is nothing new. But this time, Amazon sent FCC officials a laundry list of Musk’s past troubles with other regulators, mounting its most aggressive attempt yet to push back on SpaceX’s speedy timeline for deploying its broadband satellites.
“Try to hold a Musk-led company to flight rules? You’re ‘fundamentally broken,’” Amazon wrote in its filing, referring to the time Musk complained that the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulatory structure slowed down SpaceX’s operations. “Try to hold a Musk-led company to health and safety rules? You’re ‘unelected & ignorant,’” it added, referring to Musk’s beef with officials who sought to keep factories closed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
This particular fight — there have been many — goes back to earlier this year when SpaceX proposed an update to its Starlink network, a vast constellation of satellites in low-Earth orbit designed to beam broadband internet to rural areas with little to no internet connections. SpaceX has over 1,700 satellites in orbit so far, with about 100,000 customers using its internet services in a beta phase. Amazon is planning a similar satellite network called Kuiper with more than 3,000 satellites, but it hasn’t revealed production plans or launched any satellites to space yet.
Last month, SpaceX filed a request to tweak its proposal to the FCC, asking the commission to approve two plans for deploying Starlink satellites in the future. SpaceX, its filing said, would only implement one of the two plans, mainly hinging its decision on how quickly its next generation of Starlink satellites will be ready for launch and when its Starship rocket would be ready to start launching those Starlink satellites. Since 2019, SpaceX has used its Falcon 9 rockets to launch dozens of dedicated Starlink satellite missions to space. But Starship, a much bigger rocket that’s still under development, would more quickly send satellites in their target orbit, SpaceX says.
Amazon called foul days later, saying SpaceX’s strategy to propose two mutually exclusive plans runs afoul of precedent and “requires significant effort” for the FCC and other companies to scrutinize. SpaceX wasn’t buying it. “Amazon strains credulity by suggesting it lacks the resources to analyze SpaceX’s application, especially considering Amazon routinely brings as many as six lobbyists and lawyers to its many meetings with the Commission about SpaceX,” SpaceX shot back in another filing.