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FCC Commissioner Carr Says Starlink RDOF Decision ‘Exceeds’ Agency Authority

By Rachel Jewett | August 24, 2022

A Starlink user terminal. Photo: SpaceX

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr further criticized the agency’s recent decision to strike funding for SpaceX’s Starlink constellation as part of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), saying the decision “plainly exceeds agency authority.” 

Carr was an immediate critic of the decision when it was announced on Aug. 10, and issued a further statement on Wednesday, saying the decision came without a vote or authorization from the agency’s commissioners. 

The Republican commissioner took issue that the decision cited the need to “avoid extensive delays” to provide service to rural areas. 

“That is exactly the outcome that this decision ensures,” he said. “By reversing course, the FCC has just chosen to vaporize that commitment and replace it with nothing. That’s a decision to leave families waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide when we have the technology to get them high-speed service today.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in the justification that Starlink “failed to demonstrate” that it could deliver the service that was promised, and Carr rebutted that the commission did not have a basis for this argument. In addition, he noted that speed benchmarks on the program will not kick in for another three years, and SpaceX continues to launch satellites for the constellation, increasing capacity.   

“The skepticism the FCC expresses here is odd because it is in direct conflict with the confidence expressed by other components of the federal government — including the Air Force, which just inked a nearly $2 million deal with Starlink to deliver high-speed Internet service to military bases,” Carr said, citing a contract reported on by Air Force Magazine

Rosenworcel also cited the $599 upfront cost of Starlink’s consumer terminal as a concern, but Carr said this justification “is without a lawful basis” as there was no authorization to deny winning bids based on equipment prices. 

“There is a limited pot of federal infrastructure dollars, and we are now far more likely to exhaust those resources before getting every American connected,” Carr said. “We should correct course, adopt a technology neutral approach, and in doing so ensure that we prioritize the needs of Americans that remain unserved today.”