FCC Commissioner Carr: How About a $600 Coupon Program for Starlink?

Dec 26, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Dec. 26, 2023 – A federal official today offered a proposal for closing America’s digital divide quickly and cheaply.

Brendan Carr, a Republican on the Federal Communications Commission, suggested supplying thousands of American consumers with $600 coupons to acquire the equipment needed to connect to the Internet via Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite service.

”One argument is cut everybody a coupon for $600 – which is effectively the price of a Starlink dish – and mail that coupon to everybody and call it a day,” Carr said during an interview with Jason Calacanis of “This Week in Startups.” A video of the half-hour session was posted to the X platform.

Carr said his approach would come to the immediate aide of those being told “to wait on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

Carr’s idea is a reality in Canada. The provincial governments in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have launched Starlink rebate programs, offering up to $1,000 to defray equipment costs. Quebec offers a $40 monthly service reimbursement for three years. Last week, Canada’s Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission committed $27 million more to Starlink partners serving 25 Nunavut’s communities.

Two weeks ago, the FCC pulled $885.5 million in broadband subsidies from Starlink, which had won a 2020 FCC auction to provide 100/20 Mbps low-latency service to about 643,000 U.S. locations. The FCC decided Starlink could not meet the speed requirements.

Carr said the FCC had joined what looked like “regulatory harassment” of various Musk businesses.

“If Starlink were owned by someone else, or by the same person with different politics, I don’t think that that [FCC] award would’ve been raked back,” said Carr, who believes Biden in personally targeting Musk.

Under Carr’s plan, providing a $600 coupon to each of the 643,000 locations that Starlink had hoped to serve would cost the U.S government about $385 million, a pittance compared to the billions needed to reach millions of unserved locations with fiber facilities. The FCC said the U.S. now has 7.1 million unserved locations.

“If you are narrowly focused on closing the digital divide, mail everyone a coupon for $600 right now,” Carr said. Providing each of the 7.1 million unserved with a $600 Starlink coupon would cost $4.2 billion.

The Biden Administration is unlikely to consider a Starlink coupon program because it has what Carr called a “hate-need” relationship with Musk.

He said the Biden White House is thankful Musk is helping the U.S return to space, building electric vehicles at Tesla and assisting with the military’s satellite programs.

But at the same time, he said the White House is less interested in boosting domestic Starlink service because the Commerce Department is rolling out $42.45 billion in broadband deployment subsidies under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, which is giving preferential treatment to fiber projects.

“There’s a ton of union jobs that come from building out fiber. I don’t think that’s something you can dismiss when you look at how the policy sausage making is in D.C. right now.”

Last week, fast-growing Starlink announced having 2.3 million subscribers globally, including 1.3 million in the U.S.

An official with Starlink parent SpaceX said Starlink is planning on joining the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides eligible households a $30 monthly credit on their Internet bills. The ACP is expected to run out of money next April, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has said.