The department is trying to assess if the Starlink beta service offer violates 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, a senior DoT official told ET.
The official said that action, including sending a notice at first, may be taken if it is legally established that Starlink’s offer violates India’s existing telecom regulations, is not in consumer interest and also has national security implications.
He though added that the offer does not “immediately appear” to violate Section 4 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, “as SpaceX is yet to establish, maintain or work a telegraph in the Indian jurisdiction”. 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 electro-magnetic emissions. “But the DoT is yet to firm up its final views,” the official said.
The DoT’s move comes after the Broadband India Forum (BIF), representing the likes of BhartiAirtel-UK government co-owned satellite venture OneWeb, Amazon, Hughes, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, recently asked the government to stop SpaceX from pre-selling the beta version of its Starlink satellite internet services in India on grounds that the Elon Musk-led US satellite operator did not have a suitable licence or authorisation.
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 Starlinksatellite internet service on pre-orders in India for a fully refundable deposit of $99 (above Rs 7,000).
“We are trying to examine if Starlink’soffer 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,” another senior official said.
At press time, SpaceX did not reply to ET’s queries.
Last month, the broadband forum had written to the Department of Space (DoS) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) that SpaceX-backed Starlink did not have its own ground stations in India, nor the satellite frequency authorisation from the DoT and Isrofor providing such beta services. It had added Starlink’s offer was non-compliant with existing rules for testing a communication service, which stipulated that while in the testing phase, no commercial launch can take place.
SpaceX, which already offers such beta satellite internet services in the US, Canada and UK, expects to start offering internet connectivity to Indian users in 2022 through satellites it will launch into orbit. The company’s website says “orders would be fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis”.
A maker of advanced rockets and spacecraft, SpaceX has developed the Starlink constellation of satellites to provide high-speed broadband globally.
The latest challenges to SpaceX’sIndia ambitions come even as OneWeb also plans to launch fast satellite broadband services in India’s remote corners by June 2022.
But unlike OneWeb, which aims to take satellite broadband to remote regions where internet access is unreliable, expensive or unavailable, SpaceX’s beta programme is offering fast broadband connectivity even in India’s urban areas such as the Delhi-Noida Direct Flyway, the Mumbai-Goa Highway or the Bengaluru-Chennai highway as per its website.
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