DoT begins Investigating Elon Musk’s Starlink in India

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has started examining whether Starlink violates any of the country’s existing telecom and technology laws in India.

Starlink under the Microscope

The satellite telecom service is under scrutiny from the telecom department. Notably, the department is looking to see if the service violates any provisions from the following laws:

  1. The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885
  2. The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933
  3. India’s Satcom policy, 2000
  4. The Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000

ET Telecom reported the news first, citing a official within the DoT. As per the cited official, action was imminent if Starlink violates any existing telecom regulations in the country. Furthermore, if the service is not in consumer interest and also has national security implications, that makes all the more grounds for action.

Why the Probe?

On first thoughts, the offer does not “immediately appear” to violate Section 4 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. The official said that “as SpaceX is yet to establish, maintain or work a telegraph in the Indian jurisdiction”.

Basically, a ‘telegraph’, under the Act, is any appliance, instrument, or apparatus used for transmission or reception of signals, images, data, and sounds/intelligence by wire or other electromagnetic emissions. The official said that the telecom department is yet to make up its final say in the matter.

More interestingly, this move comes after the Broadband India Forum (BIF) registered a complaint against Starlink with the government to stop its services. This group represents Bharti Airtel-UK government co-owned satellite venture OneWeb, Amazon, Hughes, GoogleMicrosoft and Facebook.

BIF argued that the service did not have a suitable license or authorization.

One more senior official said that this move also comes as SpaceX is “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”. This move is to ascertain if that violates any existing telecom regulations in the country.

In this regard, the broadband forum also wrote to the Department of Space (DoS) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last month. The forum argued that the service did not have its own ground stations in India, nor the satellite frequency authorization to provide such beta services.

Furthermore, it added that Starlink’s offer was non-compliant with existing rules. Under the said rules, for testing a service, in the testing phase, no commercial launch can take place.

What is Starlink?

Starlink already offers beta satellite internet services in the US, Canada and UK. Interestingly, the service expects to start offering internet connectivity to Indian users in 2022. The service looks to provide global broadband coverage via their satellites.

Interestingly for this sector, OneWeb is also looking to get in the Indian market by June 2022. However, OneWeb and Starlink differ in a few key points. The former aims to take satellite broadband to remote regions, while the latter has no such distinction. The latter is already optimized for dense urban regions as well as remote reaches of the world. OneWeb has no such known distinction.

SpaceX, which will compete in the global satcom space with Jeff Bezos-led Amazon’s Project Kuiper and OneWeb, has started offering the beta version of its Starlink satellite internet service on pre-orders in India for a fully refundable deposit of $99 (above Rs 7,000).

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