Satellite Exec: Biden Administration Will Embrace Satellite Internet for BEAD Program

Dec 20, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Dec. 20, 2023 – A broadband industry executive says the Biden Administration will embrace satellite Internet as the most cost-efficient technology to reach remote locations years away from accessing landline alternatives like fiber.

“NTIA reversed its ruling and they said [low earth orbit/LEO] satellites [were] a valid service in support of the BEAD program,” Kelly Martin, Account Director at Eutelsat OneWeb, said today.

The BEAD program – or the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program – is providing the states and territories with $42.45 billion to fund broadband projects to extend service to the 7.2 million locations lacking high-speed Internet

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is running the BEAD program.

Martin said she came away from meetings with NTIA Deputy Associate Administrator Evan Feinman and his colleagues with the understanding that satellite broadband would fit within the BEAD’s program funding plans

“In fact, they are a big supporter of the value of LEO for the BEAD program,” Martin said. “This is very much a valid service and NTIA supports and backs this capability.”

NTIA has stated a clear preference to fund fiber projects, but Martin said fiber isn’t a universal solution because of terrain obstacles and the extremely high cost to run fiber in remote areas.

“It could be a temporary solution. For example, if it’s going to take three years to build the fiber … you can use the LEO satellite solution as a backup,” Martin said.

Martin’s comments came during a webinar moderated by Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark.

Also on the panel were: David Goldman, Vice President of Satellite Policy for SpaceX, owner of Starlink; Kalpak Gude, Head of Domestic Regulatory Affairs at Project Kuiper; and Martin Marshall, Senior Sales Engineer Services & Platforms, Eutelsat OneWeb.

Goldman said although the BEAD program was not designed to be technology neutral, program officials recognize that satellite broadband will reach users residing in the most difficult places to serve with terrestrial service.

“I know a number of states are looking very closely at it,” Goldman said. “I think what everybody is realizing is that realistically, there is not going to be a way to get to the 100% coverage goals that the [BEAD] program set without including a satellite component. I don’t think there’s anything controversial about that statement.”

Amazon-owned Project Kuiper – which will start deploying satellites next year after a successful test launch last month – is expecting big things from LEO technology.

“I think LEO broadband is really going to make a difference and put a dent in the digital divide,” Gude said.