FCC Engaging in ‘Regulatory Harassment’ of Elon Musk, Commissioner Says

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The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has joined a growing list of federal agencies engaging in the “regulatory harassment” of billionaire businessman Elon Musk, according to the senior Republican with the agency.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr made the claim in a dissenting statement published on Dec. 12, after the agency reaffirmed its decision not to award $885.5 million in subsidies aimed at bringing broadband internet to underserved rural areas of the United States to Starlink, the satellite internet unit of Mr. Musk’s SpaceX.

Starlink operates a network of satellites that provide broadband internet access throughout the world.

“Last year, after Elon Musk acquired Twitter and used it to voice his own political and ideological views without a filter, President [Joe] Biden gave federal agencies a green light to go after him,” Mr. Carr began his statement.

The FCC commissioner went on to reference a White House news conference in November 2022, when President Biden told reporters that Mr. Musk’s relationships with other countries are “worthy of being looked at.”

At the time, President Biden stressed that while he wasn’t suggesting the billionaire was doing anything “inappropriate” regarding his cooperation or technical relationships with other countries, his connections and business relations with various nations were still worthy of scrutiny.

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“The Department of Justice, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have all initiated investigations into Elon Musk or his businesses,” Mr. Carr, who previously served as the FCC’s general counsel, continued in his letter.

“Today, the Federal Communications Commission adds itself to the growing list of administrative agencies that are taking action against Elon Musk’s businesses,” he stated. “I am not the first to notice a pattern here.”

SpaceX ‘Failed to Meet Burden’

Mr. Carr’s comments came after the FCC announced on Dec. 12 that it wouldn’t award a $855.5 million subsidy to SpaceX as part of the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program to be used to expand broadband service in rural areas.

The agency said in a statement that the decision not to award the subsidy was based on SpaceX’s failure to meet basic program requirements.

Starlink had won the initial subsidy in 2020. The $885.5 million is funded by the RDOF, which has so far authorized more than $6 billion in funding to bring primarily fiber gigabit broadband service to almost 3.46 million locations in 49 states and the Northern Mariana Islands.

However, the agency also said on Dec. 12 that Starlink “failed to demonstrate that it could deliver the promised service” and that it had ultimately concluded funding the vast proposed networks would “not be the best use of limited Universal Service Fund dollars to bring broadband to unserved areas across the United States.”

The latest reason provided is similar to a decision the agency reached in 2022, which was based on a speed test after Starlink had agreed to provide high-speed internet service to 642,000 rural homes and businesses in 35 states.

That decision led to an appeal by SpaceX.

“The FCC is tasked with ensuring consumers everywhere have access to high-speed broadband that is reliable and affordable. The agency also has a responsibility to be a good steward of limited public funds meant to expand access to rural broadband, not fund applicants that fail to meet basic program requirements,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement.

“The FCC followed a careful legal, technical, and policy review to determine that this applicant had failed to meet its burden to be entitled to nearly $900 million in universal service funds for almost a decade.”

 Brendan Carr, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, speaks at the CPAC convention in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 29, 2020. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Brendan Carr, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, speaks at the CPAC convention in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 29, 2020. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

FCC’s Decision ‘Doesn’t Make Sense’

In his dissenting statement, Mr. Carr cited a Wall Street Journal article published earlier this year that stated that the growing volume of government investigations into Mr. Musk and his multiple businesses raised concerns over whether “the Biden Administration is targeting him for regulatory harassment.”

“Today’s decision certainly fits the Biden Administration’s pattern of regulatory harassment,” he wrote, adding that the outcome “cannot be explained by any objective application of law, facts, or policy.”

The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, TV, satellite, cable, and more in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. The commission is made up of five members.

Another Republican FCC commissioner, Nathan Simington, also dissented from the Dec. 12 decision. In a separate statement, Mr. Simington noted that Starlink had about 2 million subscribers in September and that its technology is “proven.”

“The proof is the millions of subscribers—many in areas that other providers and the FCC have failed to serve for decades—already receiving high-quality broadband service through Starlink. And SpaceX continues to put more satellites into orbit every month, which should translate to even faster and more reliable service,” he wrote.

“If this is what passes for due process and the rule of law at the FCC, then this agency ought not to be trusted with the adjudicatory powers Congress has granted it and the deference that the courts have given it,” the commissioner concluded.

SpaceX says it’s “deeply disappointed and perplexed” by the FCC decision, adding that Starlink “is demonstrably one of the best options—likely the best option” for the rural internet program.

Mr. Musk said on Dec. 12 that the FCC’s decision “doesn’t make sense.”

“Starlink is the only company actually solving rural broadband at scale! They should arguably dissolve the program and return funds to taxpayers, but definitely not send it [to] those who aren’t getting the job done.”

The businessman also asserted that “the companies that lobbied for this massive earmark (not us) thought they would win, but instead were outperformed by Starlink, so now they’re changing the rules to prevent SpaceX from competing.”

FCC officials didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for further comment.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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