Due to a new Indian policy, SpaceX is issuing refunds to Indian residents who reserved a spot to receive access to Starlink’s Internet service. India has ordered SpaceX to stop “booking/rendering the satellite internet service” without obtaining a license.
An email that SpaceX sent out to potential customers in India implies that it is working on obtaining the appropriate licenses, but the Indian government hasn’t provided any clarity on the timeline of actually issuing those licenses.
SpaceX said that it was “looking forward to making Starlink available in India as soon as possible” and “you can receive a refund at any time.”
SpaceX was considering a pilot program in India. It had as many as 5,000 Indian residents on its waitlist to receive the Starlink kits, which include a terminal that can receive signals from the company’s Internet satellite constellation. It already appointed Sanjay Bhargava as the head of Starlink operations in the country.
Starlink has a big potential market in India. Bhargava mentioned that SpaceX plans to deploy as many as 200,000 terminals in 160,000 districts by the end of December 2022. As usual for a company headed by Elon Musk, though, that schedule often depends on its ability to obtain licenses and permission to launch rockets without too much red tape. Musk has often expressed frustration with regulators holding things up for his companies’ progress.
In this case, the frustration may be warranted, especially in light of communications from Bhargava about the issue.
“At Starlink, we want to serve the underserved. We hope to work with fellow broadband providers, solution providers in the aspirational districts to improve and save lives,” he wrote in a statement.
Starlink has already shown some promise in this field. SpaceX has indicated a willingness to work with local leaders like members of the Cherokee Nation to bring reliable high-speed Internet to those who lacked very many good options for Internet access. The Cherokee Nation leadership praised Starlink’s potential to open up more opportunities and access to important online services for its members.
Nearly 500 million residents of India similarly don’t have access to reliable Internet service. Most of them live in rural areas that lack access to a broadband network.
Bhargava referred to the approval process as a rather labyrinthine one and said it was questionable whether Starlink could reach its goals of deploying so many terminals in the country by the end of the year. However, “we are optimistic that we will get approval for a pilot program or Pan India approval in the next few months” if everything goes smoothly, he said.
India may want to do something about the nearly 80 million stray cats and dogs in the country before Starlink becomes widespread. There is at least some indication that cats could be attracted to the snow melt feature on the terminals during cold winters, which could impact its ability to receive a signal or even damage the terminal.
Until then, government policy seems to be the main hangup when it comes to deploying Starlink on a wide scale in India. Some people on its waitlist may become impatient and cancel their reservation if the Indian government is too slow in approving its license.