Ukrainian Group Escalates FCC Fight over Musk’s SpaceX

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Elon Musk, CEO of X and Tesla, arrives for a Senate forum on artificial intelligence on Capitol Hill on Sept. 13.

Last month, a Ukrainian American nonprofit called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate Elon Musk’s SpaceX, accusing him of “meddling” in Russia’s favor and urging the agency to consider stripping the company of its ability to offer internet service.

Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr quickly rebuffed the move on X, calling the filing by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of American (UCCA) “meritless” in a scathing statement – and accusing the group of pushing the agency to “break the law by weaponizing it against” Musk.

Now the group is firing back, demanding that Carr retract his comments and issue an apology to the Ukrainian community while challenging his impartiality to rule on matters related to Musk, who has become a darling to D.C. conservatives.

In a new filing submitted to the agency late Wednesday, UCCA pushed back on the suggestion that it is “part of some shadowy conspiracy seeking to punish Musk.” The group went on to call Carr’s remarks “culturally insensitive” and evidence that he’s “prejudiced in favor of Musk.”

“Commissioner Carr’s statement … puts into question whether UCCA can expect a fair disposition on the merits of its petition at the Commission,” the group wrote. UCCA stopped short of calling on Carr to recuse himself from the matter but urged him to “apologize.”

UCCA lawyer Arthur Belendiuk said the group was “taken aback” by Carr’s response, which he said demonstrated that the commissioner “prejudged our pleading” for an FCC probe.

“UCCA has never received a donation from any of Musk’s companies, his competitors, or any telecom company that might have an interest in this FCC proceeding,” UCCA President Andriy Futey said in a statement.

Carr did not return a request for comment late Wednesday. Musk and SpaceX did not return a request for comment on UCCA’s earlier filing.

At issue is a push by SpaceX to use up more radio spectrum, which would allow it to expand its mobile internet services through its subsidiary, Starlink.

The FCC denied a SpaceX petition to that effect in March, but it could still allow the company to use additional spectrum down the line by updating its rules, as Musk’s company has called for.

That prospect has alarmed UCCA, which said in its initial filing last month that it “opposes the allocation of additional spectrum to SpaceX,” citing what it called Musk’s “erratic behavior” and his reported “drug use,” as well as his alleged “interference with Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion.”

The group also cited claims by Ukrainian officials that Russia has used thousands of Musk’s Starlink systems in its war against Ukraine. Musk previously said SpaceX wasn’t selling to Russia and did not respond to requests for comment from the Wall Street Journal regarding his alleged drug use.

In his initial statement on X, Carr called the submission “both procedurally improper and substantively meritless.” The filing was “part of a clear and repeating pattern of regulatory harassment that accelerated the moment Elon Musk stood up for free speech,” he added.

The role of SpaceX in the war in Ukraine has increasingly become a partisan flash point in Washington, with the FCC imbroglio marking the latest chapter.

Last month, House Democrats launched an investigation into whether the company “implemented adequate safeguards to prevent Russia from deploying its Starlink satellite internet service in its war against Ukraine,” as my colleague Cat Zakrzewski reported.

Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to the company’s leadership that Russia’s alleged use of Starlink “poses a serious threat to Ukraine’s security, Ukrainian lives, and U.S. national security.”

In a separate letter Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pressed the Pentagon to address Russian troops’ reported use of Starlink terminals in Ukraine, calling it a “serious national security threat to the U.S. and our allies.”