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Elon Musk’s SpaceX wins close to $1bn in preliminary taxpayer funding to unleash broadband across rural US

Tesla tycoon Elon Musk’s space exploration company has netted $885,509,638 in government funding to be doled out over the next 10 years to beam high-speed internet access to hundreds of thousands of American homes, the Federal Communications Commission revealed on Monday.

The agency published the results of phase I of its $16 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund broadband auction, which saw SpaceX come in financially behind just two conventional internet service providers – and far ahead of any of its satellite-based competitors. The only other low-earth orbit satellite provider who took part in the auction, Hughes, netted a paltry $1.3 million.

While conventional broadband providers Charter Communications and the Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium won more government money than SpaceX, Musk’s company – via its satellite subsidiary Starlink – will serve 35 states, the most of any of the auction winners. Some 642,925 households in rural areas from Wyoming to New York will receive satellite broadband if SpaceX’s long-form final proposal is accepted. 

SpaceX and the other winning companies must submit a more detailed proposal by the end of January in order to secure FCC funding. Starlink’s broadband delivery has thus far performed well, but remains in the beta testing phase. Wannabe-early adopters can participate in the “Better than Nothing Beta” test for the not-so-low price of $499 for a one-time satellite hookup and $99 per month after that. The company hopes to offer its service to the public by mid-2021. 

The rollout of Starlink’s high speed broadband across the American countryside will be paid for by the US taxpayer – which is unlikely to sit well with those concerned about Musk’s multitudinous satellites clogging up their view of the sky. A chorus of astronomers and other scientists have already warned that the ever-growing constellation of Starlink satellites in low-earth orbit illuminates the night sky too much to see distant stars and planets. 

Witnessing SpaceX’s taxpayer windfall may light a fire under some of Musk’s competitors. Fellow space-enthusiast billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have both floated the idea of launching their own herds of satellites to deliver high-speed internet access around the world.

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