Elon Musk’s Starlink has urged the UK’s telecoms watchdog to tear up its new satellite licensing regime as the billionaire seeks to blanket Britain’s skies with his constellations in low Earth orbit.
Mr Musk’s company, which uses a network of thousands of satellites to provide internet connectivity to consumers, said Ofcom should “reconsider” its newly adopted licensing rules and return to a “lightweight” regime.
The telecoms regulator recently tightened its rules for satellite operators in the UK as part of a race by space companies to blanket the skies with ‘low Earth orbit’ satellites. The rules give Ofcom the power to intervene in disputes over interference that can create poor service for consumers.
Starlink, however, argued that Ofcom should abandon its new rules and revert to its old policy “successfully rolled out in the UK until months ago” and warned against adding ” administrative overhead and regulatory delays”.
Mr Musk’s company said Ofcom should rely on “discussions between operators without the need for direct intervention by the regulator”. He added that the watchdog should introduce “default spectrum sharing policies”, in case operators refuse to reach an agreement, rather than let Ofcom act as arbiter.
Rivals remain concerned that allowing Starlink and other satellite systems to grow unchecked will lead to interference with their own networks. An industry source has warned against ‘unrestricted’ satellite expansion without Ofcom’s permission.
So far, Starlink has launched 2,500 satellites into space, with plans for up to 42,000. These satellites provide broadband coverage via consumer-grade satellite dishes, known as “Dishy McFlatface”, which are provided by Mr. Musk’s company.
A subscription to the company’s broadband costs £89 a month, while its dish costs £529. Starlink increased the cost of its subscription by 10% earlier this year.
Under its new licensing regime, Starlink has been forced to submit applications for six satellite earth stations – which link its satellite network to the internet backbone – to Ofcom and its rivals for consideration.
The satellite company already operates ground stations at Goonhilly in Cornwall, on the Isle of Man and at Chalfont in Buckinghamshire. It plans to add six more sites, including Bristol, Bedford and sites in Hampshire, Suffolk, Kent and Cambridgeshire.
In its filing, Starlink also called for a rapid expansion of spectrum allocation to satellite operators, which would give the company more capacity to add customers and increase download speeds.
While Starlink is keen for Ofcom to ease its licensing terms, rivals have warned that some satellite constellations are trying to blanket the night sky unchecked.
In a filing with Ofcom, Viasat, the US satellite company which is in the process of merging with Britain’s Inmarsat, warned that operators of mega constellations in low Earth orbit are “engaging in land grabbing”.
He further warned that an “ultra-dominant” position by one operator “would not only prevent other satellite operators or constellation projects from competing effectively, but would also have a significant negative impact on the entire UK space and telecommunications industry”.
Mr Musk’s satellites were used to help keep Ukrainians in line during the war with Russia. Since the Russian invasion, Mr Musk’s company has sent 15,000 dishes to Kyiv.
An Ofcom spokesperson said: “We have publicly consulted on our new satellite licensing regime and have fully considered the responses we have received before making our decision. Our new process supports competition among satellite operators and protects the quality of service customers receive.