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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While satellite pay-TV services are in a death spiral, modern satellite-powered broadband services are raising big investments and a lot of high expectations.

Why it matters: Access to broadband is essential in today's economy, but roughly half of the globe's population still lacks reliable access to it. Companies well-positioned to build and deploy satellites see an opening to provide that service to a world hungry for fast connections.

What's happening: Historically, satellite communications services have been seen as a last-resort option for people in remote areas or, in pay-TV's case, for consumers who wanted a lot of channels.

  • But as more and more cord cutters are relying on all-purpose broadband connections and get the bulk of their small-screen entertainment via streaming options, satellite TV companies Dish and DirecTV are languishing.
Expand chart
Data: MoffettNathanson; Chart: Axios Visuals

What's new: As the pay-TV market dwindles, a new crop of satellites are being launched to beam down broadband services to wider swaths of populations on Earth.

  • The nascent services by SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb and ViaSat are all planning to launch fleets of satellites aiming for the same goal — getting enough low-Earth orbit satellites into space fast enough to provide a broadband alternative to terrestrial services from the likes of Verizon or Comcast.

The catch: Launching satellites is an expensive proposition, and the market is getting crowded — as is space itself. It's unlikely all the companies will succeed in signing up enough subscribers to cover those expenses, let alone make a profit. Consolidation is all but inevitable, analysts say.

Between the lines: The satellite industry is undergoing a sea change.

  • Satellite TV was popular in the '80s and '90s as subscription channel bundles became more sophisticated — and before the advent of the consumer internet.
  • Now as streaming over super-fast broadband is supplanting pay-TV, the next generation of satellite fleets is banking on building a business by providing the same service that is ultimately killing its satellite predecessors.

How it works: There are different technologies involved. While satellite TV companies rely on expensive satellites in high orbits, the satellites designed by Amazon, SpaceX and others are expected to be small and in relatively low orbits.

  • But the closer the satellites are to Earth, the narrower the signal beam. So providers need more satellites to cover a broad area.
  • Even with more advanced launch strategies, deploying thousands of satellites is still a pricey and logistically complicated proposition.

The FCC is already issuing licenses for these new constellations.

  • SpaceX, which received its initial license in 2018, has since launched 60 of its Starlink satellites with another batch expected to launch as soon as this month.
  • OneWeb's plans were approved in 2017, and the company sent its first satellites to orbit earlier this year.
  • Amazon's Project Kuiper filed with the FCC earlier this year.

In theory, the designs of these constellations should allow the companies to provide high-speed broadband globally and give them flexibility in design and coverage.

  • SpaceX, for example, needs 400 satellites in orbit to provide partial coverage, but 1,000 satellites will make the constellation "economically viable," Elon Musk said in May. The company hopes to launch about 12,000 Starlink satellites.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, undersecretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. chargés d'affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and nonessential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten the embassy's ability to assist Americans.

Perfect storm brewing for extreme politicians

Data: Axios research; Table: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Redistricting and a flood of departing incumbents are paving the way for more extreme candidates in this year's midterm elections.

Driving the news: At least 19 House districts in 12 states are primed to attract such candidates — hard partisans running in strongly partisan districts — according to an Axios analysis of districts as measured by the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voter Index (PVI).