Starlink, a private venture led by billionaire Elon Musk, currently has over 4,000 low-Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites that are circling the Earth. This network of satellites provides internet connectivity, and Musk has an outsized role in controlling the technology, thereby giving him significant power in conflicts, according to Steven Feldstein of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Musk’s ability to launch large numbers of satellites into space quickly, due to SpaceX’s rockets, gives Starlink a significant advantage over its competitors. The more satellites in orbit, the better the connectivity and bandwidth. This puts Starlink in a position that no other company or government can currently match.
While the US government has outsourced much of its space program to SpaceX, Starlink’s parent company, this raises concerns about prioritization and potential conflicts of interest. Commercialization in the post-Cold War era has led to a web of private companies working with the government, each with its own motives and interests.
In the broadband market, Starlink has some existing competitors, but they are relatively fledgling and far behind in terms of technological capabilities. Even Amazon, which has shown interest in this field, lags significantly behind Starlink.
There have been discussions around using the Defense Production Act (DPA) to address this situation. The DPA is often invoked and could be a viable option if a regular global contract is unsuccessful. However, it would still be an additional step in the process, and the Pentagon has started exploring contractual arrangements as a more straightforward path.
A government takeover of Starlink is also a possibility, but usually occurs during times of national security or financial crises. It remains unclear if the current situation warrants such drastic action. Furthermore, there is a question of whether a government-run entity would possess the same level of innovation seen with Starlink under Elon Musk’s leadership.
In summary, Elon Musk’s control over Starlink and the dominance of the satellite internet technology market poses challenges for competitors and raises concerns about potential conflicts of interest. The options to address this situation include invoking the Defense Production Act or potential government intervention, though the viability and desirability of these options remain open for discussion.