Carr Speaks Out on Starlink, ECF Awards $42 Million, FTC Drops Zuckerberg as Defendant

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr doubled-down on previous criticism of the agency’s exclusion of Starlink.

Carr Speaks Out on Starlink, ECF Awards $42 Million, FTC Drops Zuckerberg as Defendant
Photo of Consumer Technology Association CEO Gary Shapiro from CES2021

Brendan Carr, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, doubled-down on previous criticism of the commission’s revocation of an $885 million infrastructure award to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite program on Wednesday.

In a public statement on the matter, Carr lays out four main points of objection. First, Carr states that pulling funds from Starlink will leave Americans without adequate broadband coverage: “[The FCC’s decision will] leave families waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide when we have the technology to get them high-speed service today.”

Second, Carr questions the strength of the FCC’s evidence. Carr sees no reason to agree with the FCC’s belief that Starlink will not be able to meet the “relevant speed benchmarks.” He writes: “The FCC’s decision offers no reasoned basis for determining that Starlink was incapable of meeting its regulatory obligations.”

Third, Carr raises the issue of cost, stating that the FCC’s universal service awards support services that are slower and costlier to the consumer than is Starlink. What’s more, in light of a 2020 Commission-level decision, Carr says that the FCC has no legal authority to “…deny a winning bid based on equipment price point considerations”

“Fourth,” Carr writes, “This agency decision will hit taxpayers in their pocketbooks.” Carr goes on to posit that any renewed efforts to extend broadband to areas once-covered by Starlink’s award will cost more than treble the original $885 million.

The FCC granted the award to Starlink in 2020, under then-Chairman Ajit Pai, from the Digital Rural Opportunities Fund. In Wednesday’s statement, Carr said that he believes the FCC’s revocation to be an attempt to re-litigate the 2020 decision and to pivot federal funding away from satellite broadband rather than an effort to extend broadband coverage as a whole.

Another round of ECF funding

The FCC announced $42 million in new funding for schools and libraries through its Emergency Connectivity Fund on Wednesday.

The latest grant from ECF’s well of $7.1 billion, this funding will assist about 100,000 students in six states – Arizona, Delaware, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin.

ECF was incepted with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021in response to the digital “homework gap” experienced by many students during the Covid-19 pandemic. Students without access to adequate computers or internet connections were often unable to keep up with their better-equipped peers as they navigated the difficulties of virtual learning.

The ECF gives funds to schools and libraries with which they can purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, laptops, and tablet computers, as well as other broadband services that allow students to work effectively from home. In extreme cases, applicants may obtain funding for broadband infrastructure projects.

ECF has three funding windows; the application deadline for the final period passed last May.

To date, the FCC has allocated over $5.7 dollars to applicants, funding over 10,000 schools and 900 libraries, as well as millions of computers and broadband connections. This funding has provided over devices and connections to over 13 million students.

Zuckerberg no longer a defendant in antitrust case

The Federal Trade Commission has agreed to drop Mark Zuckerberg from its lawsuit to prevent Meta Platforms Inc. (formerly Facebook) from acquiring Within Unlimited Inc., a virtual reality media and technology company.

The FTC filed for an injunction last month to halt the deal, and Tuesday removed Zuckerberg from the defendants lists after Meta’s chief executive promised not to buy Within personally.

Meta owns the most popular VR headset, Oculus, and set its sights on the acquisition of Within’s virtual fitness app, Supernatural. Three of five FTC commissioners, however, believed that the acquisition would materially harm competition. Bureau of Competition Deputy Director John Newman claims, “Instead of competing on the merits, Meta is trying to buy its way to the top.”

Critics say that the FTC’s aggression will discourage established players from buying startups, removing an important source of revenue for small developers and thereby hobbling innovation. “This lawsuit is such a break in policy, so unfair, and so damaging to new investment that I feel compelled to speak,” said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association.

Since the confirmation of FTC chair Lina Khan in 2021, the FTC has become more aggressive against big business, especially in the tech sector. As an academic, Khan argued that the FTC should fundamentally change its outlook on antitrust and adopt a more active stance against industry giants like Meta, Google, and Microsoft. Now, as chair, Khan has stepped up antitrust actions, including issuing a pause on Microsoft’s proposed buyout of gaming company Activision Blizzard earlier this year.

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