French court pulls SpaceX's Starlink license

Service 'likely to have a significant impact on market for provision of broadband internet access'


France's Conseil d'Etat court is revoking the license [PDF] authorizing Elon Musk's Starlink outfit to use two frequency bands to provide satellite internet in France.

SpaceX reportedly has only one ground station left in France, in Villenave-d'Ornon, Girond. The other two Gateways – which were authorized between July and December 2020 – came up against local opposition. Villagers voiced concerns that the ground network gateways would affect cattle, despite assurances from the country's own ANFR (National Frequency Agency) that it is perfectly safe and far below the regulatory limit value.

According to the decision (handed down yesterday, and translated from French), the associations PRIARTEM and Agir pour l'environnement had requested an annulment of the spectrum use. The rights groups were granted this, the ruling said, because of a lack of public consultation.

The contested decision of ARCEP, which aims to authorize the company Starlink Internet Services Limited... is likely to have a significant impact on the market for the provision of broadband internet access and to affect the interests of end users. Therefore, by taking this decision without having first consulted the public, ARCEP disregarded the provisions of V of Article L. 32-1 of the Post and Electronic Communications Code.

ARCEP is the "independent agency in charge of regulating telecommunications, postal services and print media distribution" in France.

Starlink had offered speeds of up to 150MBps for satellite internet, with services available in France in beta since May 2021. Current speeds are comparable to 4G, although when it launched, SpaceX said connectivity speeds would improve over time. Users are required to order a small dish with tripod to set up in an open area at home.

Ground stations – aka Gateways – and satellites for Musk's constellation, which is meant to provide connectivity for hard-to-reach rural notspots, can be tracked here.

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The SpaceX subsidiary is not the only low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite player. The coverage of each spacecraft is a narrow band around the whole world, meaning it faces global competition. One such rival is Amazon's Project Kuiper, which yesterday said it had secured "up to 83 launches" from Arianespace, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance. The retail and cloud giant said the agreements comprised "the largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history, providing heavy-lift capacity for Project Kuiper to deploy majority of its LEO constellation of 3,236 satellites."

Over in France, Starlink faces a local rival in the form of Paris-based Eutelsat. France's biggest telecoms operator, Orange, inked a deal [PDF] with Eutelsat in 2020 under which it bought out all available capacity on Eutelsat's Konnect satellite to cover the entire French territory, saying it would enable even those living in the most isolated areas to benefit from very high-speed fixed broadband via satellite from January 2021.

In October 2021 [PDF], Eutelsat invested an additional $165 million in OneWeb and upped its stake in the satellite broadband provider after giving it a cash injection of over half a billion dollars earlier that year. The outfit was bought out of bankruptcy by the government of the United Kingdom and Indian multinational Bharti Global the year before.

The London-based constellation slinger, in contrast to Starlink, is a wholesale-only proposition.

Just two weeks ago, OneWeb turned to SpaceX after its rocket rides to orbit fell victim to sanctions imposed on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine. What a tangled web they weave.

We have asked SpaceX for comment. ®

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