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Starlink asked to stop selling Internet connections in India - govt. cracks down

SpaceX Starlink satellite dish
(Image credit: SpaceX)
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Update [December 1, 2021): 

The federal Indian administration had issued a public advisory through Twitter last week asking the Elon Musk-owned Starlink to refrain from seeking customers for its satellite-based internet services. 

We now learn that the company has stopped taking pre-orders for the services and is abiding by the government's notification in this regard. Landing on Starlink's pre-booking page shows up this message: 

“Starlink is not yet available in your area but as we launch more satellites, we continue to expand our coverage area. Please check back for future availability in your area.” 

We had reported that the Elon Musk-owned Starlink is finding itself on the wrong side of the federal Indian government. In an unprecedented move, the Department of Telecommunications asked citizens to stop applying for beta connections to the company's satellite-based internet connections. 

The federal department to to its Twitter handle to tell citizens that the company has not been authorized to offer such internet connections in India. It asked Starlink, an internet constellation operated by Musk's SpaceX, to stop accepting applications for its internet services in the country. 

The department further clarified in the tweet that  "for rendering satellite-based services in India, requisite license(s) from DOT are required" which the company does not have and therefore is not allowed to operate in the business of offering internet services. 

The tweet said “Government of India has asked the company to comply with Indian regulatory framework for rendering the satellite-based communication services and refrain from booking/rendering the satellite internet services in India with immediate effect.”

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While asking people to not apply from an unauthorized entity, the ministry said, “Public is advised not to subscribe to Starlink services being advertised.” “It's hereby informed to the public at large that the said company (Starlink Internet) has not obtained any licence/authorisation for rendering satellite-based internet services that are being booked on their website,” it added.

SpaceX backed Starlink had appointed Sanjay Bhargava as its Country Director. He recently revealed that the company has over 5000 applications from within the country and had recently set up an Indian subsidiary called Starlink Satellite Communications Private Limited or SSCPL.

The directive from the telecom ministry could come in a rude shock to the users. Bhargava, however, in his recent post on Linkedin announced the setting up of the local entity and also revealed that SSPL will “start applying for licenses, open bank accounts etc.”

In one of his earlier posts, he was seen urging people to apply for Starlink’s satellite connection in the country and to avoid waitlist.  Prospective users are required to pay $99 upfront on its site.

Starlink's beta application form

Beta application form on Starlink's website (Image credit: Future)

We’ve reached out to Sanjay Bhargav and COAI for their responses on this issue and will update this article with any responses that we receive.  

Earlier we had reported that Starlink had its sights set on offering satellite internet in India starting December 2022. The company was reportedly in touch with the government agencies to bring internet connectivity to 10 rural Lok Sabha constituencies in the upcoming 2022 elections. The company aims to go live with over 2 lakh active terminals in the country.

This could somehow also boost Indian Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious Digital India mission, however, starkly against the Vocal for Local and the mantra of going self-reliant.

Space wars for internet

Several companies including SpaceX’s Starlink, Bharti Global-backed OneWeb and Project Kuiper by Amazon are in a race to beam high-speed wireless internet connectivity from outer Space. Complex and expensive that it may sound, satellite-based internet is probably the quickest way to connect people in the remotest and the toughest terrains on the planet.

However, when it comes it India, the requisite approvals and licenses might be a tricky thing and Elon Musk is experiencing this first hand - initially with Tesla and now with Starlink.

A non-profit organization, Telecom Watchdog, had recently requested the regulator TRAI to intervene and stop Starlink from accepting pre-booking of satellite internet. Deeming it an illegal activity, the watchdog sought the regulator to “file a criminal case under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code+ against the company for cheating.”

The current statement from the Telecom ministry seems to have come in response to the plea of Telecom Watchdog. Even the telecom companies had raised an alarm over the “backdoor entry” of Elon Musk’s Starlink last year after he tweeted about Starlink services going live in India by 2021.

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Jitendra Soni

Jitendra has been working in the Internet Industry for the last 7 years now and has written about a wide range of topics including gadgets, smartphones, reviews, games, software, apps, deep tech, AI, and consumer electronics.