FCC greenlights Starlink use on moving cars, denies Dish request

The FCC on Thursday granted SpaceX’s request to use the 12 GHz band for Earth Stations in Motion, aka ESIMs, allowing the satellite company to provide Starlink internet service to moving vehicles and on boats and aircraft. It also granted a related request by Kepler Communications.

The agency said its grants are subject to a number of conditions, some of which are related to the ongoing 12 GHz rulemaking proceeding. So while SpaceX won on this, the broader questions swirling around the 12 GHz band are still open.

Both Dish Network and RS Access voiced opposition to SpaceX’s use of ESIMs in the 12 GHz band. SpaceX contends that the 12.2-12.7 GHz band is critical to enable it to provide high quality, low latency broadband services.

“The commission went to great lengths to impose numerous conditions in this order that ensure this decision will not reduce its flexibility in the ongoing 12 GHz rulemaking,” said V. Noah Campbell, CEO of RS Access, in a statement provided to Fierce on Friday. “By doing this, the FCC makes clear that any company exploring ESIM operations in the band is doing so at its own risk. They also put NGSO operators on notice that this issue will not distract the commission from exploring a coexistence framework that would make 500 MHz of prime mid-band spectrum available for 5G.”

Dish didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dish and DirecTV use the 12 GHz band throughout the U.S. to provide TV via satellite dishes on homes and businesses. Dish argued that the introduction of roving satellite-based services in the 12 GHz band would substantially increase the chance of interference with its antennas.

The FCC International Bureau sided with SpaceX and Kepler, finding that the proposed ESIM operations are unlikely to introduce harmful interference in the band.

“Authorizing a new class of terminals for SpaceX’s satellite system will expand the range of broadband capabilities to meet the growing user demands that now require connectivity while on the move, whether driving an RV across the country, moving a freighter from Europe to a U.S. port, or while on a domestic or international flight,” the FCC wrote in the June 30 order. “Similarly, authorization of the Kepler ESVs [Earth Stations on Vessels] service will provide much-needed connectivity to vessels in territorial waters of Hawaii and Alaska and remote areas throughout the world, including the Arctic and Antarctic polar regions.”

Earlier this week, SpaceX upped the ante in the broader battle with Dish over the 12 GHz band, urging Starlink users to tell the FCC and lawmakers how much they rely on their Starlink service and to reject efforts to change the rules for the 12 GHz band.

That effort appears to be working, as comments are flooding the FCC’s comment filing system in favor of Starlink; the company’s petition is hosted by votervoice.net. By PCMag’s count, about 3,000 users submitted their complaints with the FCC as of Thursday.