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Dish says SpaceX ‘manipulated’ tests and lied to customers about 5G interference

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It’ll be fine! says Dish

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Dish says SpaceX has been lying to customers about how a plan to expand the use of certain airwaves for 5G could disrupt its Starlink internet-from-space service. SpaceX sent a “manipulated filing” to the Federal Communications Commission in an attempt to prove the expanded 5G usage would lead to substantial interference, writes Dish and a group of other companies known as the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition. They write that SpaceX is conducting “a public misinformation campaign” against 5G.

“This tactic, which is commonly used by Elon Musk, is not only disingenuous, but it promulgates an anti-5G narrative that is harmful to American consumers who deserve greater competition, connectivity options and innovation,” the Coalition writes in a statement published today.

The dispute is over whether Dish and other companies should be allowed to use a band of radio frequencies known as the 12GHz spectrum for 5G. SpaceX currently relies on this spectrum as a “workhorse” for its Starlink service and says that interference from 5G over 12GHz would “make Starlink unusable” for most Americans. Currently, SpaceX has more than 2,400 Starlink satellites in orbit, which beam broadband internet coverage to approximately 400,000 users, according to the company.

The FCC is currently considering whether to allow 5G usage in the 12GHz band, and SpaceX is hoping to convince the commission not to allow it. In late June, SpaceX emailed its Starlink customers asking for their support and urging them to petition their lawmakers and the FCC to prevent the change. More than 70,000 Starlink users reportedly left comments with the FCC over the last week asking for 5G to be rejected.

SpaceX’s main argument, though, was detailed in a 16-page analysis that it claimed “clearly demonstrates” that 5G service would lead to disruptions. The 5G for 12 GHz Coalition now says this document “is both scientifically and logically flawed,” wasn’t done by an independent expert, and focuses on “unfavorable geographies” while “grossly distort[ing]” 5G network configurations to reach its devastating conclusions. The Verge has reached out to SpaceX for comment.

FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel acknowledged the complexity of making 5G work in the 12GHz band during a congressional hearing in April, according to FierceWireless. “These issues, to be candid, will take time,” Rosenworcel said. She told legislators that work was underway to determine whether there would be harmful interference if multiple services coexisted in the 12GHz spectrum.

Dish uses the 12GHz spectrum for satellite TV service. But, as the company races to deploy a nationwide 5G network, it’s looking to rely on all the spectrum it can get — which is why it’s now fighting so aggressively to put this spectrum on the board.