SpaceX’s Starlink is on the cusp of receiving regulatory approval to operate in India. This approval will come after years of efforts by SpaceX to expand into India, which has experienced setbacks from high-level employees leaving the company, to being ordered to refund customers who had placed a pre-order for the satellite internet service.
According to a report from the Economic Times, India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is expected to issue a Letter of Intent (LoI) imminently, possibly within the next few days.
The approval process advanced following Starlink’s compliance with a key requirement by the Department for Promotion of Industry & Internal Trade (DPIIT). Starlink had to clarify its shareholding pattern, ensuring none of its investors are from countries sharing a land border with India, a stipulation set for national security reasons. This clarification was pivotal in moving forward with the regulatory process.
Starlink has also agreed to a significant regulatory condition: not to offer services to bordering countries, which is likely in reference to Pakistan. To operate in India, Starlink will need to establish a separate Indian entity, aligning with the DPIIT’s requirements on shareholder structure.
The decision is expected to be finalized once telecom secretary Neeraj Mittal and communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who are currently attending international events abroad, return to India. With a network of over 3,500 satellites in low-Earth orbit, Starlink aims to provide high-speed Internet access across India, enhancing connectivity in remote and underserved areas.
The move into the Indian market hasn’t been without its challenges. In late 2021, Starlink faced criticism from the Telecom Ministry for accepting advance payments from subscribers without possessing the necessary license, leading to an order to refund around 5,000 pre-ordered customers in India.
Starlink’s entry into the Indian market is significant, considering the country’s vast geographic expanse and varied terrain, which pose challenges for traditional broadband infrastructure. Satellite-based Internet services promise to bridge the digital divide, providing a boon for rural and remote areas where connectivity has been limited.