Viasat, lured by broadband subsidy opportunity, eyes 300-satellite LEO constellation
WASHINGTON — Viasat states it’s open to building a constellation of nearly 300 satellites in low Earth orbit if it can be eligible for some of the $20.4 billion in broadband subsidies the U.S. Federal Communications Commission intends to distribute beneath the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund.
Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg stated that the company’s view on orbits stays exactly the same — Viasat has defended geostationary orbit however, the possibility of government funds makes LEO worth pursuing.
“It’s the demand side that we’re after, and the one thing that’s really changed on the demand side are government subsidies,” Dankberg stated during a demonstration with investment management firm AllianceBernstein.
Viasat has for the past few years been focused on a trio of geostationary broadband satellites which each will have a or more of total capability. The company gained FCC approval for a constellation of 20 satellites, last month, as strengthening its GEO fleet, a system Viasat had not dedicated to building but talked about.
Now Viasat needs the FCC to move the exact approval into a LEO constellation of 288 satellites it states can help close the digital divide.
The LEO constellation of viasat would operate at 1,300 km employing exactly the identical Ka- and V-band frequencies authorized according to a May 26 FCC filing. Each satellite could support 96 gigabits per second of throughput, allowing an 27 terabits of connectivity fanning 60 degrees south and north of the equator out.
Dankberg stated LEO would allow Viasat to send signals fast enough to drop below 100 milliseconds — a seat indicate the FCC has given substantial weight.
“We had a purpose in MEO, however, the biggest factor in needing to lower the altitude is really the amount of funding that the FCC is aiming at low latency communications,” Dankberg said during a May 26 earnings call.
An uphill battle
Viasat was the only satellite operator to be granted FCC subsidies in a previous FCC program known as the Connect America Fund Phase 2, having been allocated $122 million in the $1.49 billion app the FCC pledged to pay from 2018 to 2028. Dankberg stated the experience with the Connect America Fund Phase 2 of Viasat gave it a sense of bids are evaluated by the FCC.
Funds awarded under the program’s initial stage will be available through 2030. A start date hasn’t been announced for the second stage, which includes $4.4 billion in subsidies plus any funds not allocated during the initial phase.
No satellite operator has proven they can reach those standards, the FCC said.
The FCC two functionality tiers — 50/5 Mbps and 100/20 Mbps — also exceed what satellite operators can provide, based on an FCC survey. Neither it nor its own rival Hughes Network Systems showed that they could surpass 3 Mbps uploads Even though Viasat told the FCC 100 Mbps download rates were achieved by it in geographies.
Another challenge for both Viasat and other satellite operators would be that the FCC’s rules cure low- and – medium-Earth-broadband systems such as those being built by SpaceX and others to be unproven solutions for residential clients and thus qualify for the subsidies despite their promise of low latency and high rates.
The Rural Digital Opportunities Fundis”not the proper venue to examine unproven technologies employing universal service support,” the FCC said.
“Assuming that the FCC does permit LEO to be eligible in the Phase 2 section of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the chance for financing is far in excess of the increase in what the constellation could price,” Dankberg said.
The FCC is scheduled to vote about the principles for Rural Digital Opportunities Funds’ very first first stage.
Funding reserved for the program’s second stage would become available only after the FCC has avenues to identify businesses and homes in underserved regions, FCC spokesman May Wiquist stated by email. He did not respond to SpaceNews questions.
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