from the complicated,-expensive-solutions-that-don’t-fully-fix-the-actual-problem dept
While Space X’s Starlink is a promising broadband option if you’re out of range of traditional options (and can afford the $710 first month price tag), many users who’ve pre-ordered aren’t having a great time. Some say they’ve been waiting for service more than a year, during which time Starlink has often refused to answer basic emails or issue refunds, while imposing price hikes on waiting customers.
The laws of physics also aren’t playing well with Musk’s continued decisions to expand access to the service (RVs, airlines, luxury yachts). Despite endless press hype about Starlink’s disruptive potential, the current generation satellites can only provide service worldwide to somewhere around a million or so users in a country where 20-40 million lack access, and 83 million live under a monopoly.
Things have gotten so bad, some users on Reddit say they’ve seen their Starlink speeds drop as slow as 5 Mbps during primetime.
Good news though: while the average Starlink US speed has dropped from 105Mbps to 53Mbps (still fairly impressive if your only option previously was traditional satellite or shitty DSL), the service should be getting some help from the launch of 7,500 second generation low orbit satellites that just received approval from the FCC (of a total 29,988 Gen2 satellite launch approval requests).
The FCC did impose some limitations to account for the growing surge in “space junk”:
“To address concerns about orbital debris and space safety, we limit this grant to 7,500 satellites only, operating at certain altitudes,” the FCC said. But the approval of 7,500 satellites “will allow SpaceX to begin deployment of Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next generation satellite broadband to Americans nationwide, including those living and working in areas traditionally unserved or underserved by terrestrial systems,” the FCC said.
While updated satellites with greater capacity should aid congestion, Wall Street analysts have suggested that even with a full array of 42,000 next-gen satellites (which will take years to deliver and likely a working and successful Starship launch) total Starlink global subscriber reach could still be somewhere around 6 million, which remains a drop in the bucket when it comes to the kind of volume needed to bridge the digital divide or disrupt the nation’s lumbering telecom monopolies.
That doesn’t account for Starlink’s apparent issues with customer service. Or the fact that the service’s $110 per month cost (plus $600 hardware charge) is out of reach for those who lack access to broadband due to affordability. Nor does it guarantee the fact that Starlink can be profitable, something Musk has repeatedly stated remains largely uncertain in a low-earth orbit satellite industry rife with past failures.
Starlink exists less as a genuine way to tackle the digital divide, and more as a cool side project designed to boost Musk companies’ reputation for innovation, goose stock value, and nab the kind of subsidies Musk routinely claims disdain for.
But the Trump administration’s decision to give Starlink a billion in subsidies has been backtracked by the current FCC due to some falsehoods in the company’s application, and remaining questions about whether the service can reliably scale and survive the next decade (read: if you’re going to subsidize broadband, you should focus on subsidizing future-proof fiber first and foremost).
This is all before you get to the whole “ruining scientific research due to light pollution” issue, which the FCC claims to have helped mitigate by “limiting SpaceX’s operations to below 580 km, requiring SpaceX to continue to coordinate and collaborate with NASA to minimize impacts to NASA’s science missions, requiring SpaceX to coordinate with the National Science Foundation, and requiring SpaceX to coordinate with specific observatories to protect radioastronomy operations.”
Musk being, well, Musk, we’ll see if any of this stuff is actually adhered to, or if we continue to pretend that Starlink is simply so innovative, all federal rules and accountability for service issues should be deemed a cumbersome and unnecessary afterthought.
Filed Under: broadband, digital divide, fcc, high speed internet, low earth orbit satellite, satellite, starlink
Companies: spacex, starlink