A network of communications satellites known as Starlink has become a cause for concern for governments worldwide. Ukraine, for example, relied on Starlink’s space-beamed internet during the Russian invasion in February 2022. A Ukrainian platoon commander credited the lifeline provided by Starlink for preventing the loss of the war. However, controversies have arisen regarding the role of tech companies like SpaceX, which operates Starlink, in conflict zones.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, has faced criticism for offering to “support connectivity” to aid organizations in Gaza. He insists that Starlink is intended for civilian use and not for warfare or drone strikes. Nevertheless, concerns persist about the involvement of tech companies in such matters.
The primary goal of Starlink, when SpaceX began assembling the network in 2015, was to provide high-speed internet to areas lacking physical infrastructure like fiber optic cables. The service has expanded its reach in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in island nations like Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand. Countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, are also well-positioned to benefit from Starlink’s low-latency, strong signal delivery.
Indonesia, for instance, has expressed interest in bringing satellite internet to remote healthcare centers. Over 20% of the country’s rural health clinics lack internet access, and providing satellite internet would ensure equitable access to healthcare services. However, Starlink faces regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles in Indonesia’s direct-to-consumer market, with concerns about potential harm to local businesses. The company’s executives are known to negotiate directly with heads of government to overcome barriers to market entry.
Despite challenges, Starlink has achieved some success. In Malaysia, SpaceX was exempted from protectionist laws limiting foreign ownership of domestic internet companies. SpaceX’s tough negotiations are partly due to the need for consistent revenue generation. However, the company appears to have improved its financial position and achieved breakeven cash flow.
Musk’s close business ties with China may have led Taiwan’s government to explore alternative options to Starlink. Taiwan contracted with British provider OneWeb in June to establish backup satellite internet service after an internet outage caused by damaged undersea cables.
The global network of Starlink satellites continues to capture attention and raise concerns. As governments navigate the complex landscape of satellite internet service, discussions on regulation, connectivity, and potential conflicts of interest remain at the forefront.