Elon Musk’s SpaceX won approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to offer broadband service from space, using a constellation of 4,425 satellites racing around the Earth in low orbits.
The action, approved in a 5-0 vote by FCC commissioners announced on Thursday, is the first approval of a U.S.-licensed satellite constellation to deliver broadband, or fast internet service, the agency said in an emailed news release.
Satellites can help extend broadband to Americans who live in remote or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers don’t reach, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in February, as he presented Musk’s plan for approval by fellow commissioners.
U.S. politicians have called for improved internet service in rural areas. President Donald Trump’s infrastructure proposal lists broadband as eligible for funding, alongside traditional projects such as roads and bridges.
SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., requested authority to deploy and operate thousands of satellites operating roughly 700 to 800 miles (1,110 to 1325 kilometers) above the Earth.
“This is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president, said in an emailed statement.
The FCC said it earlier approved three international operators for satellite-broadband operations: OneWeb, Space Norway AS, and Telesat Canada.
In order for large broadband constellations to deliver services in the U.S., the FCC must approve their operations to ensure the satellites don’t interfere with other uses, and will operate in a way that lowers the risk of collisions.