The SpaceX-owned company’s service is used by 1.4 lakh beta users in 20 countries, and over 7.5 lakh users have expressed interest in the service.
The story so far:
On November 26, India’s Department of Telecom (DoT) said Starlink Internet Services is not licensed to offer satellite-based Internet services in the country. The government agency also advised the public to refrain from subscribing to Starlink’s service.
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The DoT has asked the company to comply with the country’s regulations before offering its satellite-based broadband service.
What is Starlink?
Starlink aims to provide Internet to consumers around the world through low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. The SpaceX-owned company is one of the few firms launching a constellation of LEO satellites to provide low-latency broadband service, with a particular focus on remote areas that are unconnected to the existing internet infrastructure.
Amazon’s Project Kuiper and OneWeb, which is co-owned by the British government and India’s Bharti Enterprises, compete with Starlink. OneWeb is said to be talks with ISRO to build cost-effective access terminals for LEO satellites.
The Musk-owned company has a head start in the LEO-based broadband race with 1,800 LEO satellites already in the orbit.
The company’s service is used by 1.4 lakh beta users in 20 countries, and over 7.5 lakh users have expressed interest in the service, according to a presentation by SpaceX to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.
When did SpaceX’s interaction with India begin?
In September 2020, SpaceX expressed interest in launching Starlink in India. The space tech company commended Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) effort in evaluating its existing rules and policies governing broadband service in the country.
In a detailed response to a TRAI consultation paper on promoting broadband connectivity, SpaceX suggested the regulator redefine technology-neutral broadband in the context of next-generation satellite services.
She also urged the regulator to consider the unintended fees, taxes and other administrative burdens, that when passed on to end-users, can make broadband unaffordable to many.
“New technologies like Starlink may require consideration of updated rules, policies and regulation,” Patricia Cooper, VP, Satellite Government Affairs at SpaceX, wrote on September 21, 2020. [Cooper has left SpaceX in July 2021, according to her LinkedIn profile.]
Why does India have a problem with Starlink now?
Nearly five months after Cooper’s response to TRAI, in March, Starlink reached out to consumers in India to pre-order/book its service. The pre-order was priced at $99, or about ₹7,000, an amount that is refundable. It noted that the service will be made available by 2022.
By November, Starlink hired Sanjay Bhargava as Country Director, and set up a 100% owned subsidiary.
The newly created subsidiary is said to be working on applying for licenses and opening bank accounts in the country. Last week, the company said it is hiring for Director Rural Transformation role.
Its at this point when the DoT stepped in and asked the company to file for a licensing.
India has a unified licensing telecom policy. Under it, the license holder can apply for Internet Service Provider (ISP) license for different areas. So, the applicant must acquire a license under which they can obtain Authorization for providing ISP services for a certain area.
This means Starlink must get a license under the unified system to provide Internet service in the country. And until its application gets approved by the DoT, consumers in India can’t use the service.