SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell says that the company won’t add tiered pricing for direct-to-consumer access to Starlink’s Internet service. The service is currently in its “Better than Nothing Beta” phase and priced at $99 per month, plus an upfront fee for equipment.
Most Internet service providers offer tiered plans in which consumers can select their maximum upload and download speed. For instance, Xfinity currently offers download speeds of up to 25 Mbps for $25 a month and up to 400 Mbps for $50 a month.
The company is taking a different approach. “”We’re going to try to keep it as simple as possible and transparent as possible, so right now there are no plans to tier for consumers,” Shotwell said while speaking to a virtual audience at the Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum.
SpaceX plans to offer speeds of up to 300 Mbps by the end of 2021. The latest available information indicates that beta testers have reported speeds between 44 and 200 Mbps. Even the lower end of that range is already faster than competing satellite Internet service providers like Viasat and HughesNet.
(And, yes, Viasat does not seem to like it. In a move that Elon Musk has blistered as an attempt to shut down on competition, it has previously filed a regulatory challenge with the FCC over the thousands of satellites that SpaceX intends to send into orbit.)
The $99 a month subscription fee and $499 upfront cost for equipment that was set when the Better than Nothing Beta was opened may be high enough to defeat the purpose of easily accessible and affordable Internet access in regions that were previously neglected by Internet service providers. However, SpaceX does have plans for lower cost Internet access and phone service for low-income consumers. It has also shown a willingness to work with school districts to provide Internet access for students without reliable access.
In recent regulatory filings, SpaceX is also seeking permission to place receivers for its satellite Internet access on larger vehicles such as buses, RVs, boats, and planes. Passenger trains like Amtrak may also be a possibility. Elon Musk has denied reports that he has any plans to add Starlink to electric vehicle models that Tesla already has in production due to potential size-related issues. (The planned Tesla Semi might be large enough to support it, though.)
SpaceX has already launched 1,200 Starlink satellites out of a planned constellation of 42,000. Shotwell says that the company still has “a lot of work to do” before Starlink is ready to come out of beta. Because of this, the company does not have a firm timeline for declaring it fully operational. This is a departure from Elon Musk’s habit of setting overly ambitious timelines for his companies’ future plans.
Will the cost come down? If competitors like Viasat can give up on using regulation as a weapon to quell competition and focus on improving their attractiveness to consumers instead, the competitive pressure may work to gradually reduce the cost of access to Starlink. SpaceX has also shown a willingness to make it more affordable to more people and also provide access to those who are on the move. It simply has no plans to have tiered plans at this time.