The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has asked Starlink, the satellite broadband arm of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, not to “solicit any telecom business or collect any related fees” for its upcoming broadband-from-space services in India without the necessary authorisations.
“Starlink Internet Services is required to desist from soliciting telecom business and collecting related fees…etc, without having received necessary authorisations and adhering to relevant statutory provisions,” the telecom regulator said in a directive dated December 7 to the company. ET has seen a copy of the letter.
In its letter, Trai said “soliciting of business for provision of broadband service has to be in accordance with extant statutory provisions related to telecom services”.
The order comes just over a week after the communications ministry barred Starlink from seeking pre-bookings for its internet-from-space service as it does not have a local licence.
Trai’s letter also comes days after Starlink’s India head Sanjay Bhargava indicated via a LinkedIn post that the company’s broadband from-space service is estimated to cost around Rs 1.58 lakh (including local taxes/levies) in India per user terminal in the first year, and around Rs 1.15 lakh from the second year onwards.
“Tariff for regulatory purpose has been defined as rates and related conditions at which telecom services within and outside India may be provided, including deposits, installation fees, rentals and any other related fees or service charge,” Trai noted in its letter.
Prior to the recent order by the communications ministry, Starlink was accepting pre-orders for the beta version of its upcoming satellite broadband service for a fully refundable deposit of $99 (around Rs 7,425). Following the missive however, it withdrew its pre-bookings offer.
Bhargava has said that the company would apply for a commercial licence in India by January 31. The company is targeting 200,000 terminals in India by December 2022 if it is able to start rollouts by next April.
Trai also pointed out to Starlink that “as per Section 11 (2) of the TRAI Act, 1997, it may, from time to time, by order, notify in the official Gazette the rates at which the telecommunication services within India and outside India shall be provided”.
Starlink, on its part, has called on state governments and Union Territories (UTs) to tap the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF) corpus – estimated at roughly Rs 55,000 crore — to fund the estimated first year annual cost of a dedicated Starlink terminal, besides using their own state budget pools to ramp up broadband connectivity via its satellite service across state schools, police stations, health centres and other government facilities.
The company’s Rs 1.58 lakh first-year cost estimate of its terminal in India includes $499 (Rs 37,400) towards user equipment, a monthly $99 service fee (about Rs 7,425 payable over a year and local taxes/levies at 30%.
The latest developments come at a time when the likes of Bharti Airtel’s OneWeb, Starlink, Jeff Bezos-founded Amazon and the Tata-Telesat combine are readying to enter India’s nascent broadband-from-space segment, leveraging on their respective global low–earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations. Both SpaceX and OneWeb plan to launch broadband-from-space services next year.