Technology/space pundit Robert Cringely writes that SpaceX’s winning bid on NASA’s Artemis lunar lander contract was helped by its flexibility in how it would be paid — made possibly by SpaceX’s cushy financial position.
But he believes that’s part of a larger story about SpaceX’s “steadily crushing its competitors by building a hyper-efficient space ecosystem where the other guys are just building rockets,” arguing that SpaceX has already won the global war of ISPs “at a net cost of ZERO dollars,” if not a negative net cost, while realizing a dream of a satellite internet service that for 30 years has eluded investors like Bill Gates:
SpaceX making a profit where one would not normally exist comes thanks to U.S. residents who pay telephone and Internet bills. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been socking-away for a decade about $1.8 billion per year from you and me, saving-up to pay for expansions of rural telephony and broadband. There is now about $16 billion in this federal kitty and the FCC is starting to spend it with telephone and internet service providers, paying them to extend broadband and voice services to remote rural users who are presently underserved or unserved completely. All of this is both perfectly legal and even a good idea. Everybody wins. But circumstances are turning out to indicate that SpaceX is probably winning more than anyone else… So far SpaceX has won auctions for service in parts of 35 states for a total of $885 million… SpaceX just bid for potential customers in places where other companies typically didn’t even bother to bid. They took the obvious remote customers and apparently won’t be over-charging them or the government, either…
There is no FCC rule saying Comcast couldn’t sub-contract…difficult customers to Starlink… Instead of earning $885 million of those FCC subsidies, Starlink is more likely to gain half of the full $9.2 billion — money that can be used for any purpose including financing that Artemis lander. But remember that satellites are a global resource. If SpaceX launches 4000 or 12,000 Starlink satellites to serve the USA, they’ll also serve anywhere else the satellites overfly, even North Korea. The same level of service Starlink offers in Omaha will be available in Vietnam or on tankers in the Pacific ocean.
Once Starlink becomes effectively the dominant ISP in America, it will also become the dominant ISP in the world. And all at no cost to SpaceX since the expansion will have been financed from our phone bills.
Cringely cites estimates that 40,000 satellites would be enough to serve every Internet user on Earth, as well as IoT devices and even future as-yet-uninvented network services.
He also asks whether this might ultimately make it harder for China to censor the internet — and whether Apple might attempt a competing satellite-to-phone network, possibly using technology from Samsung.