The Indian government has advised its citizens not to preorder Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite-based internet service, and told the company that it needs to obtain a license to operate in the country before it starts selling its services.
In an official statement, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) under the Ministry of Communications pointed out that Starlink Internet Services is not licensed to offer satellite-based internet services in India as being advertised to the public.
“It has come to notice that Starlink has started pre-selling/booking of the satellite-based Starlink Internet Services in India. The same is also evident from the website of Starlink (www.starlink.com) wherein satellite-based internet services can be booked by users in Indian territory,” the DoT said.
The company faced scrutiny from the DoT in April when the latter began examining whether Starlink’s beta rollout broke any of India’s telecom laws following complaints by rival companies such as OneWeb and Hughes Networks through their representative body, the Broadband India Forum (BIF).
“For rendering satellite based services in India, requisite license(s) from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India are required. It is hereby informed to the public at large that the said company has not obtained any license/authorization for rendering satellite-based internet services that are being booked on their website,” the DoT added.
The Indian government has asked the company to comply with the Indian regulatory framework for rendering the satellite-based communication services and refrain from booking or rendering its satellite internet services in India with immediate effect.
“Given the fact that Starlink is not a licensee, the public is advised not to subscribe to Starlink services being advertised,” the government said.
The company, however, has yet to stop taking preorders in India, according to Indian media reports.
Following the release of the order, an Indian consumer forum, Telecom Watchdog, said that the action taken by the government was “highly belated and inadequate”.
“The DoT took as many as 58 days to issue directions for something which could have been done in hours. In between, many more innocent consumers got cheated,” the forum said in a statement to the DoT dated November 27.
StarLink’s India head Sanjay Bhargava said in September 2021 that the operator had collected pre-order fees from over 5,000 customers in India at $99 each.
Telecom Watchdog said that figure now stands at little over 11,000. “That means over $1,089,000 has been collected by them so far in foreign exchange,” the forum said, adding that this is in “gross violation” of the RBI guidelines related to end use. “No accountability has been fixed for this delay.”
Telecom Watchdog has now urged the DoT to file a criminal case against the company for “cheating” and to order a refund to citizens of the entire amount paid with interest and without any deductions. “The department has not initiated any penal action against StarLink for cheating citizens. It was expected that DoT would lodge a formal complaint with the Economic Offence Wing (EOW) against the company.”
The forum also demanded the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) investigate how StarLink could launch the pre-booking since February 2021, and called for “strict disciplinary action against the DoT officers for delayed and inadequate action on the issue.”
Starlink expects to start offering internet connectivity to Indian users in 2022 through satellites that it will launch into orbit. OneWeb also plans to launch fast satellite broadband services in remote areas of India in the middle of 2022.
Starlink service will directly compete with Bharti Group-backed OneWeb in India. Globally, it will also compete with Amazon’s Project Kuiper.
SpaceX’s Starlink claims that its technology can support high-speed, low-latency broadband services in any part of the world, including remote areas, at a much cheaper rate than operators. It is using more than 1,000 LEO satellites, and plans to increase that number to 42,000 by mid-2027.