SpaceX applies for rural broadband funding, gets ready for next Starlink launch

SpaceX applies for the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, but it still has some obstacles to clear as it gears up to launch another 60 Starlink satellites on Thursday.

The rise of Elon Musk and SpaceX

SpaceX has applied for a chunk of the Federal Communication Commission's up-to $16 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) but it still needs to prove it can deliver a service with less than 100ms latency to ensure it gets maximum funding. 

As reported by Ars Technica, the FCC yesterday published a list of applicants for the RDOF, which offers a total of up to $16bn in funding to ISPs over the next decade to expand high-speed broadband coverage in underserved or unserved parts of rural America. 

SpaceX's application, along with Verizon, is on a list of 384 would-be bidders that have submitted incomplete applications. The FCC also published a list of 121 providers that have submitted complete applications

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Of the incomplete applications, the FCC notes that these do "not provide the certifications and basic information required by the Commission's competitive bidding rules for participation in the auction." 

These applicants also may "not [have] been determined to be financially and/or operationally qualified to bid in all the states or for all the performance tier and latency combinations it selected." 

SpaceX in June began inviting potential Starlink satellite broadband customers to participate in its beta trial. At that stage it had 540 Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit and today, Thursday, it is scheduled to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying another batch of 60 satellites into space, bringing its total count to 600.     

While SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has previously boasted the satellites will have a latency of under 20 milliseconds, in a recent FCC application SpaceX said the service will have latency of below 50 milliseconds. However, the FCC is reportedly skeptical that satellite providers can deliver a roundtrip latency of below 100ms in the mass-broadband market. 

Weather permitting, SpaceX will launch the Falcon 9 with Starlink satellites on Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If that fails, it says there is a backup opportunity available on Friday, September 4.