back to article Indian government tells Starlink to refund pre-orders placed before licences approved

The Indian government has reportedly told Elon Musk's internet satellite company, Starlink, to refund pre-orders it could not yet fulfil because it didn't have the licences. Starlink had been gearing up to provide the internet services in India, registering its business on 1 November, advertising and even pre-selling …

  1. msobkow Silver badge

    The problem with Musk and most American companies is they see the world as their "market", ready for the fleecing, but they have NO qualms about completely ignoring local regulations in the markets they intend to serve. For some perverse reason, they think being an American means you can stomp around the interweeb and do whatever you want. :(

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      @msobkow

      Isnt it a product available for users but for the snails pace of government bureaucracy? Not sure how offering a product for people to choose if they wish in competition with other offerings is fleecing.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: @msobkow

        Pre orders for a system which doesn't have legal permission to operate...

        That's an odd thing. But I think it would be sufficient to say that they must offer refunds, I am sure that most of the people who preordered are happy to have that sit as a pre order until the legislative barriers are dealt with.

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: @msobkow

          @John Robson

          Not disagreeing unless the Indian gov were to have granted the permission by then. But to msobkow's comment its still not fleecing.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How's that different from the US government?

    3. RegGuy1 Silver badge

      The problem with ... most American companies is they see the world as their "market"

      Ah the brexit effect.We know we are better than everybody else. Although in this case if the Indian government don't like what he's doing what can they do? The Internet lets you ignore national borders if you want to, and from what I understand the antennae are small and unobtrusive.

      This is early days. I remember when they said a country such as Egypt was full of Microsoft windows machines, all based on one instance. Is that the case now?

      Personally I think Starlink will become THE de facto ISP from anywhere in the world, and existing telcos will either go to the wall or become resellers. Fun to see how it all pans out but the next ten to 15 years will probably go through yet another bout of disruption.

      Anyway, with no skin in the game I'm certainly going to get my popcorn ordered early.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: The problem with ... most American companies is they see the world as their "market"

        "Personally I think Starlink will become THE de facto ISP from anywhere in the world,"

        Not a hope in hell. Starlink can never have the capacity to remove ground based incumbents without many, many more sats than planned for, and probably much bigger birds at that. You can wire up a city with fibre far more cheaply.

        Starlink is a niche market. Quite a large niche admittedly, but a niche nevertheless. And the only reason the niche is large is because from orbit you can cover much of the planet, sats "hopping" from one small niche market to another, unlike from Googles "Loons", which were even more niche.

        1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

          Re: The problem with ... most American companies is they see the world as their "market"

          Outside of cities it does make sense.

          What India is doing seems odd, I get that you do need a license, but strikes me of defending the local companies and making sure traffic is logged, etc.

        2. James Hughes 1

          Re: The problem with ... most American companies is they see the world as their "market"

          The next gen Starlink satellites are much larger, so that will increase capacity. But I agree that their market is NOT cities - fibre will always be faster/cheaper. But not all the world is cities, and Starlink works on planes and boats...

          Where I live, in Sunny Fenland, within commuting distance to Cambridge, tech capital of the UK (my opinion!), broadband is really patchy, so for many people around here it would be a godsend. And its not like the UK is a third world country. Apparently.

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: The problem with ... most American companies is they see the world as their "market"

        You may need to look at the rest of how the business works.

        "in this case if the Indian government don't like what he's doing what can they do?": A lot. A really massive lot. A really massive unpleasant lot to everybody involved. That doesn't mean they necessarily would do all these things, but I'm starting with what they or other countries with the motivation could do. Let me show you.

        "The Internet lets you ignore national borders if you want to, and from what I understand the antennae are small and unobtrusive."

        The equipment itself is smaller than other dishes, but it's not invisible. It requires line of sight to the satellites. That means you have to put it outside. Outside, someone can see that you have it and report it. They could even send people to drive around and look for them. You can't just hide it in your house.

        Let's say you were going to hide it and only bring it out at night (nobody's driving around at night). Sorry, that's not going to work very well. The equipment requires calibration and installation by experienced people. It's not enough to plug it in and put it on a table.

        Alright, you have a place where you can have it operating constantly and nobody can see it, so you don't have to move it. It's still emitting a radio signal in a band used by the satellites. That can be scanned for. Many countries have radio surveillance vehicles that could be used for these things. The UK used them to detect the operation of old TV sets, and those weren't even trying to broadcast a signal. You are, meaning there's a better signature for them to use to find you.

        But what if the government doesn't want to go to the effort of sending out teams to find the system. No problem. There's another possible mechanism to deny you the service: block payments. If Starlink wanted to give you the internet for free, they could manage it under that case. They don't. In order to succeed, they need to get you to pay them every month for the service. If paying them is illegal and blocked, that's going to be hard. That's assuming they will set up back channels for receiving payment, distributing equipment, managing accounts, etc. That's a crime, so it's quite likely they won't bother doing that when there's plenty of not illegal business to be had.

        Satellite internet is not magic. If it was, the existing geostationary satellite providers would have already killed censorship globally. It doesn't matter that the new satellites are in a different place now. The same laws of physics and behaviors of society get in the way.

        1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

          Re: The problem with ... most American companies is they see the world as their "market"

          I like el Reg because I get a proper education!!

          Cheers guys.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Personally I think that should lead to invalidating any rights they have.

      No IP rights, no exclusion of responsibility for contents - you know, nuke all the escape clauses they bought in the US to operate, no migrating revenue to low tax havens - the works. It's only fair.

  2. Kurgan

    Ransom

    So the government wants Starlink to pay a ransom, basically. And of course to allow for government spying on indian customers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ransom

      Not exactly a Ransom.

      The Indian Government has a long track record of NIH. If you want to sell in India then they are insisting on a lot of local content or face very hefty tariffs.

      Elon 'dear leader' Musk could diffuse this by starting to build a Tesla factory in India... But he won't. He's far too used to getting his own way in everything and throwing his toys out of the pram when he doesn't.

      Yes, I'm not a Tesla/Musk cult member.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Ransom

      You need to look up what ransoms are. They want him to be able to sell something before he sells something. Big difference.

      As for spying, you have no evidence for your claim. India's internet policy is not good, though mostly for shutting it down rather than monitoring, but they haven't said anything about those regulations. Starlink, on the other hand, has already said multiple times that they plan to collaborate with local censorship and surveillance regulations in order to operate legally. You shouldn't make up reasons when you don't know them.

      1. Citizen of Nowhere

        Re: Ransom

        >You shouldn't make up reasons when you don't know them.

        It's the modern way it seems. Baselessly speculate, or just make it up, then repeat as often, as widely and as loudly as possible.

  3. thondwe

    Still Skeptical

    I'm still skeptical of these orbital systems - huge investment to put into place, while trying to avoid crashing into other peoples satellites, a lot of competition on the ground except where the population centers are few and fair between, When is Musk ever expecting to see a profit from this?

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Still Skeptical

      I'd buy it.

      There's very poor competition here on the Florida east coast.

      I have a "choice" of AT&T or Spectrum, which is a choice between crap and garbage. For example, if the power wobbles, I lose connectivity, so obviously the local equipment doesn't have even the most basic battery backup.

      I'm paying $80/mo for for 20mb/sec.

      The thing that concerns me is customer service. I wouldn't put up with the condescending and patronizing crap that Tesla customers accept. However, being better than AT&T "service" is a very low bar to hurdle.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Flame

        Re: Still Skeptical

        That's the point, Starlink is aimed at the 3rd world standard US telecom market while charging 1st world prices, rather than the actual 3rd world where the majority couldn't afford it.

        1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

          Re: Still Skeptical

          They can live with the US market alone.

          The plan is to fleece rich countries and get some extra money from poor ones.

          And by fleece, I mean what looks like reasonable in the US.

    2. hoola Silver badge

      Re: Still Skeptical

      I am not sure he really cares about the profit from selling it, he appears to make most of his money with share dealings based on all sorts of dodgy business practices and hype.

      Look at Tesla in the US, nearly half a million recalls and it barely merits a blink in the news. If this was VW, Ford, Nissan, Mercedes etc then it would be screaming headlines. As it is the issue is quietly buried on the "Tech" pages.

      Look how he is dealing with all the complaints from countries with large platforms in space, just ignore it because fundamentally he has nothing to lose. The Starlink satellites are disposable, he simply does not care if the hit something because his loss is minimal compared to multi-million satellite. Anyone operating these will always move them because of the size of the loss.

      This is how arrogant then man is.

      The only point he might just listen is if Starlink starts having issues because of the debris it has caused. Of course, by then it is too late.

    3. Mishak Silver badge

      When is Musk ever expecting to see a profit from this?

      Not until Starship is operational and can launch huge numbers of satellites in one go.

    4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Still Skeptical

      You are right to be skeptical. Starlink might be marginally profitable at present. The cost of the user terminals was much higher than the price but now it is much closer to the price. Starlink put a large effort into getting the cost of the satellites far below everyone else in the industry. They use the cheapest launch provider and they are probably getting an excellent bulk discount. They also started with the USA which has many wealthy customers in sparsely populated areas "served" at rip-off prices by an awful duopoly. All those advantages are barely sufficient. There are hints at another step down in the cost of user terminals has been delayed by chip shortages. To really make money Starlink needs to launch more capable satellites using a much cheaper launch system. Starship might get to orbit in March.

      I would love to blame Brexit for everything but OneWeb had to be rescued from bankruptcy because of their own decisions. They bought satellites from Boeing. Compared to everything but Starlink they got good satellites at a fair price but compared to Starlink they a paying lots of money for not enough. The other disaster is the deal included Boeing organising the launches. Boeing has a half share in United Launch Aliance but ULA are far to expensive for anyone but the US military and Jeff Bezos. Boeing were not going to buy from the competitor eating their lunch (SpaceX) so they negotiated an excellent bulk deal with Roscosmos - then charged OneWeb the going rate for individual Soyuz launches. Roscosmos were left stranded with a flock of half built Soyuzs and a bankrupt customer. Lucky for them the UK government came to the rescue.

      The other theoretical constellation is Amazon's Kuiper. I am sure Jeff Bezos planned to launch Kuiper with Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket. Blue is a litigation company, has no orbital rocket and is late delivering engines to ULA for their new Vulcan rocket. Kuiper will be launching on the last remaining ULA Atlas rockets. Although Jeff can afford it that puts Kuiper at a financial disadvantage and with a big problem of what to do when after all nine Atlases have crashed into the sea.

      The crashing into other people's satellite bit is more PR than reality. Three incidents reached the news. ESA had to dodge a Starlink when ESA should have had right of way. The problem was identified as faulty communications on the ground inside Starlink. This has been fixed. Next up, the US military warned of a possible upcoming collision between a Starlink satellite and a OneWeb satellite. Starlink said they would wait for more accurate data from the US military because their satellites are good at dodging and the early warning might have been a false alarm. OneWeb chose to move their satellite. OneWeb then wrote a complaint to the ITU about being forced to dodge a Starlink then informed every news outlet that would listen about the complaint. By the time the ITU had rubbished the complaint OneWeb had already scored a huge PR coup. The final complaint is from the Chinese government. They say their space station had to dodge a descending Starlink because they did not know where it was going. This is a bit strange because the US military publishes a list of everything they can detect in orbit and Starlink go above and beyond to keep those records up to date for the benefit of astronomers. My personal guess is that this was a response to the world plus dog complaining that China created hundreds of thousands of bits of debris in orbit with an anti-satellite weapon test.

      The satellites that really have to work hard to dodge Starlink are the other Starlink satellites. As there are so many the old hand-crafted response system is not sufficient so Starlink was designed from the ground up with an automated collision avoidance system. Musk offered to co-ordinate with other constellation operators so their automated collision avoidance systems could communicate with each other. OneWeb seem to prefer PR stunts and Kuiper has no reason to complain as they have no satellites.

  4. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Spoiler alert

    Starlink "remains excited to serve India."

    "It's... it's a cookbook!"

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A pox on both their houses.

    Musk is a dirtbag.

    Pretty much everyone in the Indian government are dirtbags.

    If it wasn't Musk, I'd say the company should officially "pull out" of India, and sell the service to Indians anyway, completely ignoring Indian law. Not really a problem to get the ground stations smuggled in, or the money out. The satellites fly over the entire world, India can't stop them.

    But it's Musk, so F**K him.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Once again, the Musk hate appears. He's rich, got there by his own efforts, get over it.

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