SpaceX cracks down on SA Starlink connections, set to cut access from April-end

Thousands of Starlink users in South Africa face disconnection as SpaceX-enforced regulations tighten. The broadband service, initially allowing roaming, now mandates access only in officially supported areas. Users abroad for over two months must relocate or lose service. Despite speculation on workaround markets, Starlink stands firm, enforcing terms globally. Regulatory hurdles in South Africa hinder Starlink’s launch, prompting advocacy efforts. As the digital divide persists, access to satellite internet remains a complex issue of regulation and accessibility.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.

By Hanno Labuschagne

Thousands of Starlink users in South Africa are set to have their connections switched off at the end of April 2024.

The SpaceX-operated broadband service has sent an email to users of its roaming service, which includes all South African users, notifying them that they will have to access the service in an area where Starlink is officially available from the end of the month.

It pointed out that its regional and global roaming plans were intended for temporary travel and transit, not for permanent use in locations outside officially-launched areas.

The company said users who have been using its roaming plan for more than two months outside of the country where they ordered service must either change their account country or “return to base”.

“Otherwise, your service will be restricted,” it warned.

Starlink previously said it would require those with a roaming subscription to access their service in their home registered country every two months for it to remain active. However, it had not enforced that rule for well over a year.

In its email about the imminent cutoff, it also said that operating a Starlink kit in an area other than areas designated as ‘Available’ on the Starlink Availability Map violated the Starlink Terms.

“Starting 30 April 2024, you will be unable to connect to the Internet except to access your Starlink account where you can make updates to your account,” Starlink said.

“This restriction does not apply in areas designated as ‘Available’ on the Starlink Availability Map.”

Bi-monthly check-ins might not work

Some South African Starlink users on a Facebook group suggested this change would lead to a market of people willing to offer a paid service to transport the kits to officially supported neighbouring countries like Eswatini and Mozambique for the two-month “check-in”.

However, based on Starlink’s email, it does not appear it would allow any access to its roaming plans in countries where Starlink is not yet available.

Therefore, those South African roaming users “checking in” with Starlink in a country where it is officially available and registered every two months might find the service doesn’t work upon their return.

Starlink has the ability to switch off coverage in certain countries, as it has done in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe, after receiving requests from these countries’ communications regulators.

While it is unclear whether the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) had made a similar request to Starlink, it has been unambiguous in its view that using the service locally is illegal.

In an official notice published by Government Gazette in November 2023, Icasa said Starlink had not applied for the required telecommunications and radiofrequency spectrum licences to operate in South Africa.

In its email to roaming users, Starlink said it was working “as quickly as possible” to obtain the regulatory approvals from local governments globally to offer Starlink services in as many places as possible.

“As outlined in our Terms of Service, the availability of our Mobile Service Plans is contingent upon various factors, including regulatory approvals,” Starlink said.

“As we continue to receive regulatory approvals to turn on Starlink services in more countries, be sure to check out the Starlink Availability Map to see where you can stay connected.”

On this map, Starlink’s estimated launch date in South Africa has been “unknown” for several years.

This is believed to be due to the Electronic Communications Act making it difficult for Starlink to meet South African ownership rules for telecoms licensees, which requires that they be 30% owned by historically disadvantaged groups (HDGs), including black people, youth, women, and people with disabilities.

Another issue is that Icasa and the Minister of Communications have not issued new Individual-type communications licences in over a decade.

Even the government’s own fibre infrastructure company, Broadband Infraco, had to go out on tender to buy a “second-hand” licence.

Although Starlink has not entirely ruled out a South African launch, it has confirmed that it prioritises countries whose regulators make it easier to get the necessary approvals to operate its service.

Starlink said users wishing to advocate for Starlink to be approved in a given country, should contact their communications and technology regulator and ministry of communications.

“Depending on your intended use case, ministries of education, health or economy may also be relevant contacts,” Starlink said.

Read also:

This article was first published by MyBroadBand and is republished with permission

Visited 3,335 times, 39 visit(s) today