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Starlink’s services in India set to face delays

TIN NETWORK
TIN NETWORK

Starlink’s services in India set to face delays

This will be in addition to the approval required from the department of telecom and the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), the designated single-window agency for space activity approvals in India.

The Indian government’s approval to operations of Elon Musk-owned Starlink’s satellite broadband services in the country is likely to be on the back-burner for some time, despite the telecom department having taken an internal decision to give them the green light.

Starlink will have to seek approvals from the ministry of home affairs as well as security agencies, according to two people aware of the details. This will be in addition to the approval required from the department of telecom and the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), the designated single-window agency for space activity approvals in India.

“The commercial aspects have been cleared, but there continues to be the security overhang. Permissions from home ministry and law enforcement may be needed,” said one of the two people, asking not to be named.

The second person, also asking not to be named, said that the telecom department’s internal approval for allowing Starlink to operate in the country alone will not be adequate for it to begin business here.

“They have some ownership concerns for which they have given declaration but it would not be sufficient because of possibility of their presence in some other geographies,” the official said, alluding to a set of satellites coming up in China and lack of clarity on its link with Starlink.

T.I.N  had reported in January that the department of promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT) had asked for details of its shareholding patterns. The company is learnt to have cited US regulations for not providing the details of complete disclosure of ownership, as required by the commerce ministry, in this case. But consequently it gave a declaration that it does not have investors from countries with which India shares land borders.

It is unclear at the moment as to what kind of pre-requisites will be sought by the ministry of home affairs or security agencies. Queries to the communications ministry, the nodal body that has to give the final approval to Starlink, and SpaceX, the parent company of Starlink, did not elicit responses as of Sunday evening.

The government on its part has amended the space sector foreign direct investment (FDI) rules which now allow up to 49% FDI under the automatic route for satellite launch vehicles and up to 100% FDI under automatic route for manufacturing of satellite sector components and sub-systems. It has also permitted the allocation of spectrum for satellite broadband through a direct allocation or a non-auction basis, which means that players like Starlink need only pay a fee to get airwaves for its services if it plans to offer them in India or partner with a carrier that already has spectrum.

Starlink is the prime competitor to Eutelsat OneWeb’s local subsidiary OneWeb India, backed by the Bharti Group, and Reliance’s Jio Satellite Communications, that has a global JV with partner SES to access latest medium earth orbit (MEO) satellite technology, which can offer gigabit, a fibre-like service, from space.

While OneWeb has begun conducting trials of the service, after having received authorisation from IN-SPACe in November 2023 to launch its commercial satellite broadband services in India, Jio’s satellite operations are yet to get the authorisation. Starlink may well be the laggard in this case, since it had applied for the licence for global mobile personal communication by satellite (GMPCS) services in November 2022. It had opened pre-booking channels in India in 2021 but had to return about 5,000 booking advances it had taken since it was not a licenced entity in the country.

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