Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is supporting a SpaceX proposal to create a satellite-based broadband internet network, according to Reuters. In a statement, Pai said the FCC should approve the proposal, noting:
“Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach.”
Pai has said he is urging the commission to support the proposal, which “would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.”
FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also expressed optimism about proposals to use satellites for broadband internet, saying:
“They will multiply the number of satellites in the skies, creating extraordinary new opportunities…the FCC should move quickly to facilitate these new services while underscoring our commitment to space safety.”
In a 2015 speech, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said that a satellite internet business could help generate funding for a future city on Mars. He said that furthermore, it would achieve a “global communications system” that would be faster than traditional, earthbound broadband internet.
The FCC has recently approved proposals from international companies such as Telesat, Space Norway, and OneWeb to provide satellite based broadband internet to the US market. The commission has said these moves “promise to expand Internet access in remote and rural areas across the country.”
These proposals, in addition to similar requests still being processed, are the first to offer “a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems,” according to the FCC.
Last month, Telesat launched a satellite via the Indian Space Research Organization, aiming to offer “high-performing, cost-effective, fiber-like broadband anywhere in the world.” Trials for the project will begin this year. A total of 120 satellites will be deployed for the project by 2021, according to Telesat. The company is owned in part by Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board.
More than 15 million Americans in rural areas and tribal lands lack access to mobile broadband services. Projects to offer satellite-based broadband is part of a broader US government effort to providing access to these areas.
Until now, satellite internet has been used mostly to connect people in even more remote areas, such as island chains in the Pacific. So far, the technology has been held back by slow speeds – a result of the relatively long time it takes for data to travel to a satellite and back. Companies like OneWeb and SpaceX are expected to be some of the first to offer low latency satellite broadband.