South Africans Remain Plugged-In To Starlink Past Disconnection Notice

By  |  May 6, 2024

Starlink, the satellite internet service powered by tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX, continues to operate in unauthorised regions despite warnings issued by the company last month.

SpaceX sent emails to customers in several African countries, including South Africa, notifying them of impending disconnection come May in areas where the service lacked proper licensing. However, users in South Africa, as well as those in conflict-affected areas, such as El-Fasher in Sudan, have reported ongoing access to the service, emphasising its role in facilitating communication, particularly for those affected by war.

The persistence of Starlink in unauthorised regions follows revelations from investigations by Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal, which exposed the extensive use of Musk’s satellites in countries where operating is illegal, including territories governed by repressive regimes.

Concerns have been raised about the company’s control over a system with significant national security implications, particularly considering the ease with which Starlink kits can be smuggled and the availability of the service on the black market. South Africans have adopted Starlink through some of these backchannels as a regulatory impasse continues to block the proper entry of the service into the country.

Despite Starlink’s warnings and efforts to enforce restrictions, a survey of nearly 100 users in South Africa revealed that a majority (73%) still had access to the service after the specified cutoff date. This underscores the challenges in enforcing regulations and controlling access, as acknowledged by Manuel Ntumba, an Africa-based expert in geospatial governance and risk, who spoke to Bloomberg.

SpaceX has yet to comment on the ongoing operation of Starlink in unauthorised regions, raising questions about regulatory oversight and enforcement. Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations in Sudan have voiced concerns about the potential impact of service restrictions on their work, highlighting the critical role of Starlink in providing internet connectivity for essential services.

Additionally, reports indicate that local Starlink shops, often operated by paramilitary forces, have faced suspensions in some areas, further complicating access to the service for residents. However, despite these disruptions, users continue to rely on Starlink for internet connectivity, highlighting the ongoing challenges faced in regulating and controlling access to satellite internet services in regions with complex geopolitical dynamics.

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