SpaceX emailed Starlink customers today asking for help in its battle against Dish Network over radio frequencies for its Starlink internet-from-space effort. Some Starlink customers received an email urging them to contact the Federal Communications Commission and members of Congress in order to support SpaceX in the ongoing dispute.
“Today we ask for your support in ending a lobbying campaign that threatens to make Starlink unusable for you and the vast majority of our American customers,” the email reads in bold.
Currently, SpaceX and Dish are squabbling over a range of radio frequencies known as the 12GHz band. SpaceX uses these frequencies to operate its massive Starlink network, a growing constellation of more than 2,400 satellites used to beam broadband internet coverage to users on Earth. It’s also a frequency used by OneWeb, another internet-from-space initiative. However, in January of last year, the FCC opened the door to the 12GHz band being used for 5G, with Dish and a company called RS Access submitting studies on ways their networks could utilize the frequencies. The companies also formed a “5G for 12 GHz Coalition,” along with other company members, aimed at getting the FCC to change its rules and allow the 12GHz band to be used for 5G.
Now, SpaceX is launching back at Dish and those studies. In a filing with the FCC last week, SpaceX said it uses the 12GHz band as “workhorse frequencies” to provide “critical downlink services” across the US. If the spectrum were to be opened up for 5G use, SpaceX claims customers would experience a “total outage of service 74% of the time.” SpaceX shared these statistics in its email to Starlink users as well as a link to a study it commissioned that it says proves how sharing the 12GHz band would harm Starlink service.
Some of the phrasing of the email message matches that of an email that SpaceX sent out to media representatives last week, which linked out to the SpaceX study and the company’s letter to the FCC. In its email to users, however, SpaceX prompts them to take action. “The FCC and your members of Congress have the power to stop this effort, but they need to hear from you,” the email reads.
“Despite technical studies dating back as far as 2016 that refute the basis of their claims, DISH has employed paid lobbyists who are attempting to mislead the FCC with faulty analysis in hopes of obscuring the truth,” the email states.
Users are given the option to send pre-written emails to US senators and representatives as well as to the FCC. The pre-written email to the FFC begins with: “I am writing to express strong opposition to the FCC proposed rule considering changes to the 12 GHz frequency band. The FCC should reject efforts to repurpose and change the rules relating to this spectrum that is used by satellite operators to provide high-speed broadband and other services in my community and throughout the country.”
Dish already relies on 12GHz to provide some satellite TV service and, as one of the biggest holders of licenses to that spectrum, hopes to begin using it for 5G service as well. “We believe co-existence is possible,” Dish legislative affairs EVP Jeff Blum told Fierce Wireless last year, calling the potential change “a win-win-win for everyone.” Dish did not immediately respond to a request for comment on SpaceX’s email.
The spectrum is particularly important to Dish as it builds out its 5G wireless network, which is currently going by the name Project Genesis. Dish acquired Boost Mobile as part of T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint and struck an agreement with regulators to launch a nationwide wireless network. The first phase of the network launched across the US this month, covering what Dish claims to be more than 20 percent of the US population.
This is just the latest regulatory fight about 5G spectrum sharing. Earlier this year, AT&T and Verizon got into a dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration over the use of certain frequencies around airports that could interfere with altimeters after the FCC approved the spectrum for mobile use.