Elon Musk says UK space rival is trying to slow satellite launches

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Elon Musk
Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s space company has accused its taxpayer-backed rival OneWeb of seeking to slow down the launch of satellite internet services designed to fix broadband blackspots.

SpaceX has told Ofcom that the regulator’s proposals to force co-operation between competing space companies could cause unnecessary delays to its Starlink service and hold up the rollout of fast internet to isolated rural households.

Mr Musk, the world’s richest person, is in a global race against OneWeb and Amazon as the three companies vie to launch satellite constellations that will blanket the earth with high-speed connections.

Rivals have accused the Tesla billionaire of a disregard for rules and claim he is attempting to bypass regulatory checks.

OneWeb, which was rescued by the Government with $500m (£363m) of taxpayer funds last year, has pushed for Ofcom to force SpaceX to come to the negotiating table amid fears that its constellation of thousands of satellites would interfere with OneWeb’s own service.

Bosses at Oneweb claim that it should be given priority because it secured a licence with international regulators before Mr Musk’s venture.

Earlier this year, Ofcom outlined proposals to require operators to co-operate and the regulator has said it could intervene if they are unable to.

Responding to a consultation on the plans, SpaceX dismissed concerns about a spectrum bottleneck and suggested that Ofcom’s proposals could limit innovation.

Without naming OneWeb, it said that the company’s demand that it be given priority would hurt competition and prevent households from using Starlink’s services.

It said: “Ofcom should... ensure any new process both prevents operators from attempting to abuse the regulatory process, and does not impede or otherwise slow down broadband service roll-out to consumers."

Starlink is seen as less susceptible to interference from rivals because its satellites are closer to earth and it will have more of them, making its signal more resilient. It is also based on newer technology, allowing it to use a smaller slice of radio spectrum.

OneWeb was the first operator to secure a licence from the International Telecommunication Union. It told Ofcom that the regulator’s proposals to require flexibility from operators “seem to imply a disregard for the ITU treaty, which sets a dangerous precedent”.

Starlink is already operating a limited £89 a month service in the UK, while OneWeb is testing a service ahead of launching it by the end of this year.

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