India examining the legality of Elon Musk’s Starlink internet service

Starlink philippines internet service
Starlink app on Apple iPhone screen. Image by Thomas Dutour | Bigstockphoto

Elon Musk’s Starlink has come onto the radar of Indian authorities for offering a beta version of its Starlink satellite internet service on pre-orders in the country for a fully refundable deposit of $99.

The country’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is now examining if SpaceX’s Starlink service has flouted the existing laws by offering beta service in the country.

The department is reportedly assessing if the company’s new offering violated any provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, India’s Satcom policy, 2000 and the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000.

“We are trying to examine if Starlink’s offer legally flouts any existing Indian telecom/technology regulations as the company appears to be offering an advance booking option for a future satellite internet service to Indian consumers and is not immediately selling a product or rendering a service,”  a senior DoT official was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Another official said that if the department may take action, including sending a notice at first, if it is legally established that Starlink’s offer violates India’s existing telecom regulations, or “is not in consumer interest and also has national security implications,”

Companies like OneWeb, Amazon, Hughes, and Google had previously asked India’s space organisation (ISRO) and the telecom regulator (TRAI) to stop SpaceX from pre-selling its Starlink beta version services in India.

Through the Broadband India Forum’s (BIF), these companies asked both the authorities to block Starlink’s beta launch in India, claiming that Musk’s satellite company neither have the license nor the authorization to offer such services in the country.

The BIF had also highlighted that Starlink doesn’t have its own earth stations in India.

SpaceX recently began offering satellite-based internet service under beta phase on pre-orders in India for a fully refundable deposit of $99. The company’s beta service is already available in urban areas, such as the Delhi-Noida Direct Flyway or Delhi-Jaipur Expressway, as per its website. 

The company will compete with Jeff Bezos-led Amazon’s Project Kuiper and OneWeb in India.

SpaceX expects to start offering internet connectivity to Indian users in 2022 through satellites it will launch into orbit. OneWeb also plans to launch fast satellite broadband services in India’s remote areas in the middle of 2022.

India’s telecom regulator recently sought views of the satellite industry stakeholders to make satellite communications affordable and attract investment into the space, which is seeing interest from SpaceX Technologies and OneWeb.

As per the TRAI, the cost of satellite-based services is on the higher side in the country, a major factor in why end-users have not widely adopted them.

The telecom department, which recently said that the current licensing framework for satellite-based services has limitations, made amendments to the licensing rules for satellite connectivity players on Monday.

Companies providing satellite-based connectivity services through gateway set-up in India will have to install network equipment from trusted sources under the changed rules.

Under the new norms, India’s National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC ) will be the designated authority that can impose conditions for the procurement of telecom equipment on the grounds of national security or “Defence of India”, as per the notification released on Monday.

Notably, the department has already made similar changes to licensing conditions for telecom operators and internet service providers.

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