Pai Seeks Conditional OK for Amazon Rural Satellite Broadband

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Friday tweeted that he circulated among his colleagues a proposal to approve Amazon’s satellite rural broadband plan with conditions. Called Project Kuiper, Amazon plans to launch more than 3,200 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, according to GeekWire.

The full commission would have to vote to approve the Project Kuiper application, which has been in the works for the past year, but support from Pai is a sign that conditional approval will likely be granted.

Some competitors are frustrated about Amazon’s bid to move forward on its own rather than as part of a broader round of applicants the Commission considered earlier, reported Politico. “Amazon’s primary policy argument in support of its request to bypass Commission rules is a bald assertion that it hopes to provide broadband one day,” SpaceX wrote in a November filing. “But if that sort of unsupported assertion is all that is needed to be granted a waiver, the Commission’s rules lose all meaning.”

Amazon SVP Devices and Services Dave Limp praised Pai’s action. “The need for reliable, affordable broadband has never been more apparent. There are still too many communities where internet access is unreliable or prohibitively expensive, and we see Project Kuiper as a way to help close this gap for unserved and underserved communities around the world,” Limp told GeekWire. “We appreciate that Chairman Pai shares our commitment to the issue, and look forward to working with the Commission as it reviews the proposal.”

Pai’s tweet didn’t signal what sorts of conditions Amazon may have to comply with. Amazon is a latecomer to the satellite broadband race. Other players — led by SpaceX, which has launched more than 500 satellites into orbit for its Starlink broadband network, urged the FCC to hold off on expediting Amazon’s application.

SpaceX hopes to launch service by year’s end and seeks to bid for FCC rural broadband subsidies this fall amid debate over the bidding rules. Amazon hasn’t yet publicly discussed how Project Kuiper’s satellites will be launched into space, or when it intends to begin commercial service.

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