There’s something strange going on amid the satellite Internet rush

Enlarge / A happy Greg Wyler after a launch in 2013. (credit: JODY AMIET/AFP/Getty Images)

As Thursday's SpaceX launch of two test satellites vividly demonstrated, several companies are moving ahead with ambitious plans to design, build, and fly hardware capable of delivering broadband Internet from space. However, as intense as the battle for broadband may be in orbit, the fight is also heating up on the ground. In particular, there is a controversy quietly simmering at the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC.

In a somewhat bizarre situation, the founder and chairman of one company seeking to deliver broadband services, OneWeb, has founded a second company to compete with himself. In response, other companies proposing satellite constellations have objected, which has added considerable spice to an already heated battle for valuable spectrum.

Greg Wyler

The person at the center of the controversy is Greg Wyler, a colorful American entrepreneur who is among the most well-known people in the satellite Internet industry. More than 15 years ago, his company, Terracom, sought to bring the Internet to Rwanda through a contract to run fiber optic cables across the country. A few years later, after Terracom's targets to connect schools to the Internet were not met and amid questions about the company's business practices, Rwanda fined Terracom, and Wyler was out as its leader.

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