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Starlink refunds amounts received from Indian customers amid regulatory uncertainty

The move to use satellites for providing broadband services in India is likely to be delayed inordinately with this announcement.

Starlink will be refunding money it had collected on pre-orders from its Indian users as per an email sent by the company, Gadgets 360 reported. The company informed users that it has been directed by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to refund pre-orders until it receives a licence, the report added.

The email also cited the fact that the timeline for receiving licences to operate in India was “currently unknown” and that there were “several issues” that must be resolved within the licensing framework to allow the company to operate Starlink in India, according to Gadgets 360.

Starlink is the satellite internet division of SpaceX which is owned by Elon Musk. It leverages small satellites, launched into space to form a low-Earth orbiting (LEO) network, which provides low-latency broadband internet services around the world, focusing on remote areas that are difficult to reach via land. The company had received over 5,000 pre-orders from India, the tech website revealed.

The move implies that Starlink will not be providing its services anytime soon, leaving rural areas without a terrestrial internet connection in the dark.

Starlink’s run-ins with the DoT

The company was flagged by the DoT for selling internet services in India without having the relevant licence in November last year.

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“Given the fact that Starlink is not a licensee, the public is advised not to subscribe to Starlink services being advertised,” the DoT said in a press release on November 26.

“For rendering satellite based services in India, requisite license(s) from 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. – Press Release by Department of Telecommunication

The department sprung into action because Starlink was accepting orders for internet services in India through its website.

Starlink’s efforts towards building its business in India

The company had only recently registered its business in India, according to an Al Jazeera report. The registration would have helped the company, Starlink Satellite Communications Private Limited, to apply for licences and open bank accounts in the country.

A local unit was necessary before the firm could start providing broadband and other satellite-based communication services. Starlink planned to offer 2,00,000 active terminals in over 1,60,000 districts by December 2022, TechCrunch wrote in a report.

Starlink was going to provide 100 devices for free to schools in Delhi and nearby rural districts in the first phase. It would then target 12 rural districts across India.

The company had also roped in Sanjay Bhargava as its India head in September, signalling its intentions about building its footprint in India.

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“Super excited to join SpaceX effective Oct 1, 2021 as Starlink Country Director India,” Bhargava said in his LinkedIn post. “[I] had worked with @elonmusk on the PayPal founding team. Have been in India since 2004 and Starlink and I share a common passion for supporting a transformed India starting with Rural India,” he added.

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I cover several beats such as Crypto, Telecom, and OTT at MediaNama. I can be found loitering at my local theatre when I am off work consuming movies by the dozen.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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