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SpaceX calls Amazon’s protest of Starlink plan an irrelevant “diatribe”


Outside view of a warehouse with a large Amazon logo on the side of the building.
Enlarge / Amazon UK warehouse at Leeds Distribution Park on May 27, 2021, in Leeds, England.

Getty Images | Nathan Stirk

On Thursday, SpaceX called Amazon’s latest protest against Starlink plans an irrelevant “diatribe” that should be ignored by the Federal Communications Commission.

“Another week, another objection from Amazon against a competitor, yet still no sign of progress on Amazon’s own long-rumored satellite system,” SpaceX told the FCC in a filing. “In its latest diatribe, Amazon spends over six of eight pages on matters wholly irrelevant to the current proceeding or even matters currently before the commission.”

As we’ve reported, Amazon last month urged the FCC to reject SpaceX’s proposal for a next-generation version of Starlink that could include up to 30,000 broadband satellites. Amazon claims that SpaceX violated a rule against incomplete and inconsistent applications by submitting plans for “two mutually exclusive configurations” with “very different orbital parameters.”

The FCC rule cited by Amazon doesn’t specifically prohibit SpaceX’s approach, which is to offer two satellite configurations in case its preferred one doesn’t work out. SpaceX argues that Amazon simply wants to delay Starlink’s plans because its own satellite division is nowhere near ready to offer service.

SpaceX slams Amazon “theatrics” and “gamesmanship”

Amazon continued to press its case on Wednesday, telling the FCC that SpaceX and Elon Musk-led companies in general act as if “rules are for other people.” Amazon also said that if SpaceX’s multiple-configuration approach is accepted, it would create an “administrative snarl” and “open the floodgates for applicants to apply for two, three, four—or more—separate, mutually exclusive configurations.”

SpaceX’s response was the shortest filing so far in this back-and-forth, consisting of just three paragraphs. “As usual, Amazon tries to prevent a fair review on the merits by using procedural gamesmanship,” SpaceX told the FCC. “Despite its theatrics, Amazon does not identify a single fact, figure, or scintilla of data that SpaceX omitted from its application. Nor can Amazon point to a single rule that prohibits SpaceX from providing the commission with extra information about an alternative configuration for its system. That is because SpaceX has provided all information required under commission rules and more information than necessary for the public and the commission to evaluate all aspects of its application.”

SpaceX argues that the FCC’s decision is a simple one because it doesn’t need to approve or deny the application yet. The FCC just has to decide whether the application is complete enough to seek public comment, the Starlink operator says.

“Pushing past Amazon’s efforts at distraction and delay, only one simple question is currently before the commission in this proceeding: whether SpaceX provided sufficient information on a proposed minor amendment to the application for its next-generation system for the commission to seek public comment on that application. The answer is unquestionably yes,” SpaceX wrote. Amazon is trying “to use a procedural gambit to prevent the public from even having the opportunity to provide feedback on the merits of SpaceX’s application,” the filing said.

Viasat backs Amazon’s case

Satellite operator Viasat entered the fray today with a filing that supports Amazon’s argument. “Instead of addressing the deficiencies in its amended application or responding to the merits of [Amazon subsidiary] Kuiper’s arguments, SpaceX once again tries to deflect attention from its own failures by claiming that others are merely attempting to ‘slow down competition’ and engaging in ‘procedural gamesmanship,'” Viasat wrote.

Viasat pointed to an FCC rule that says, “[a]pplicants with an application for one NGSO [non-geostationary satellite orbit] license on file with the commission in a particular frequency band… will not be permitted to apply for another NGSO-like satellite system license in that frequency band.”

“The commission has explained that this restriction is necessary to ‘restrain speculation’ by applicants and preserve opportunities for other operators to utilize scarce orbital and spectrum resources,” Viasat wrote. “In this case, SpaceX’s proposal for authority to operate with two different and mutually exclusive orbital configurations would remove opportunities for other parties to utilize those scarce resources.”

Viasat also said that in 2003, the FCC eliminated language from another rule that previously “specif[ied] that operators could incorporate, within their applications, ‘alternatives that increase flexibility in accommodating the satellite in orbit.'”

SpaceX, Amazon fight over who is the biggest complainer

Much of Amazon’s latest filing was about other proceedings involving SpaceX or Tesla. Amazon said that SpaceX frequently responds to “any private company that dares point out its flouting of laws and regulations” by calling its accusers “anticompetitive” and provided several examples. Amazon also noted that SpaceX does the same thing it complains about, as Musk’s company “routinely raises concerns with respect to its competitors’ currently filed plans, including with respect to interference.”

Assuming the FCC puts the application out for public comment, SpaceX said it expects another round of protests from “Amazon’s legion of lobbyists and lawyers” during the comments period.

“Undoubtedly, Amazon will find a litany of other issues with the application to complain about,” SpaceX wrote. “Nonetheless, that is what the comment cycle is for—to give the public the opportunity to build a complete record to assist the commission in evaluating SpaceX’s application for its next-generation system. SpaceX therefore urges the commission to put the application out for comment immediately to expedite the process of providing better broadband to more Americans, no matter where they live.”

SpaceX is providing broadband service in beta to over 100,000 customers from more than 1,700 satellites. The company has FCC approval to launch nearly 12,000 satellites and is seeking an FCC license to launch an additional 30,000. Amazon’s Kuiper Systems subsidiary has approval to launch 3,236 low-Earth orbit satellites but has said it won’t launch any until at least 2023.

Amazon declined to comment on SpaceX’s filing today.



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