Musk's Starlink Continues To Struggle With Very Basic Customer Service

from the this-is-not-what-innovation-looks-like dept

We’ve noted a few times that Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite broadband service is going to have a hard time meeting expectations. One, while the service is often sold as a near-magical cure for the estimated 20-42 million Americans without broadband access, it only has the capacity to serve somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 users. Due to additional supply chain issues, only about 150,000 users have received access so far. And those who’ve paid the company $100 to wait in line say the company is incapable of giving them any kind of timeline of when they can expect service.

Last fall, reports emerged showing how many of these users had been waiting months for any update whatsoever on the progress of their orders, and that Starlink customer service was utterly nonexistent. Nearly four months later and another report indicates that things haven’t seemingly improved much. Customers who’ve been waiting a year for service say they’ve seen complete and total radio silence from the company:

“Insider spoke to more than ten people who have waited nearly 12 months for Starlink’s internet service. However, they have received no updates from Elon Musk’s company on when Starlink will be available in their area and if the kit is on its way.”

Much like Musk’s Tesla solar division, and Tesla itself on occasion, installations, repairs, and fundamental customer service are often no shows. You’re apparently supposed to pretend this isn’t happening for innovation’s sake, but there’s little use for innovation for products that don’t work, or simply never arrive. In Starlink’s case, users who’ve ordered see absolutely no contact for Starlink for a year, then when they ask for refunds that doesn’t go much better:

“Jason Kirkpatrick, who is based in Michigan, told Insider that he paid $100 to secure Starlink in March but decided to request a refund in December because of the lack of contact from SpaceX. Kirkpatrick said that when he logs onto his Starlink account, it says his deposit was refunded. However, he said he never got the money back, adding that he can’t get through to SpaceX to alert them of the issue.”

As with many issues at Musk’s companies, these problems could be mitigated if it had an actual PR department willing to discuss what’s going on with the press and public. But motivated by Musk’s animosity to the press, the general response to inquiries is usually snark by Musk or dead silence by the company, which doesn’t add much to the overall ambiance of dysfunction. Again, you’ll notice a bit of a pattern if you’ve read about the experiences of Tesla solar customers, where the company’s response has generally been either apathy or silence.

As for Starlink, I imagine more disappointment lays over the horizon. Starlink’s inability to offer service to more than 500-800k subscribers depends greatly on the success of the Space X’s Raptor engine, a development process that’s not going well. If Starlink can’t boost its capacity dramatically it can’t gain the kind of critical mass necessary to make a profit, something that even the reality-challenged Musk has been forced to acknowledge. This is before you even get to the whole light pollution scientists say is being caused by Starlink deployments.

The problems are one of several reasons why folks complained when the Trump FCC threw nearly one billion in subsidies at Starlink, despite both Musk’s professed disdain for subsidization, and the fact the service — even if everything goes perfectly well, will barely put a dent in the U.S. broadband problem. Again, 20-42 million Americans lack access to broadband, and another 83 million live under a monopoly (usually Comcast). Fixing that problem is going to take a lot more than just a capacity-constrained, delay-plagued solution from a company that’s heralded for innovation but seemingly can’t answer the phone.

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Companies: spacex, starlink

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Comments on “Musk's Starlink Continues To Struggle With Very Basic Customer Service”

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21 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Much like tesla

As he learned a while ago, his hype/ good will means he doesn’t need things like basic customer service. He can have a lot of his early adopters leave, and there are plenty of other people willing to sign up for his service. It’s the same thing with traditional crappy cable. You only have one choice in many ways, and you can’t do anything about it.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Oh boy, what biased and unbalanced article. Nice framing.. you don’t have any positive things to say about Musk or SpaceX or Starlink, don’t you, you hack? 🙁

Your painting of Musk and SpaceX is crap,, you call yourselves journalists at Techdirt? LOL You should be ashamed. How about I do some better painting and build this more reality based and more balanced picture than yours…?

Musk overpromise surely, it is known. And granted people should take what he says with grain of salt. but on other hand Musk also have a way of deleivering things many people said he could not, and this is why he is the richest man of the world. He surprised the Telsa board and everyone else. Many people said he could not do this and this but he did. like making electric cars a reality, economically viable, and mainstream. Same with cheap, reusable rockets, he succeed and he made space more accessible and many didnt think he could. Many people back in time did think he was "reality-challenged " in this too. And now Tesla and SpaceX is a big success which speaks a lot about the man.and about the naysayers. I notice you neglect to put this in context forget about make it balanced, right?

Who say he can’t make orbital-based internet service a big success too. Who is reality challenged? You and the naysayers or Musk? We’ll see. Do you want to bet that Musk cant do it? Would you like to put your money where your mouth is? It’s cheap to talk shit about Musk and SpaceX, you wanna make a wager that Musk wont succeed with Starlink.like he did with Telsa and SpaceX?

Again with the light pollution thing, seriously? I’m convinced that this is a mostly overblown and manufactured problem and political bullshit coming from people who have axe to grind against Musk or SpaceX. Mostly propaganda from people who have financial or political interest to see SpaceX or Starlink not succeed. I have to see hard evidence that it is an extant real significant problem or a serious threat to anything in the near foreseen future. Who cares about some bunch of whining astronomers because it may their science more inconvenient. Are they more important than the 500,000-800,000 subscribers and more incoming looking for decent internet service? The astronomers can suck it up And about the people exploiting this whining to overblow the problem out of proportion to achieve their political purpose, who cares about them toio? they can quit fucking other people and go fuck themselves! This light pollution thing is horseshit but you dont care, don’t you? it’s just shit you seek to use to fling at Musk/SpaceX and fuck objectivity, right? Just any shit would do? I understand you have an axe to grind with him and SpaceX, but come on! be more real.

The problems you mention, what do you expect from a new venture dealing with new technology? of course there would be growing pains. People not just Musk of course should have more realistic expectations from this. Its unrealistic to expect so much in so short time from that kind of thing and that go for too. The problems are fixable just given more time, it seems to me. Rome was not built in a day. Given some more time, I dont see why not this will work out.

And it is not true that there’s not dead silence. Ars Techinca whose articles on Starlink or Musk or SpaceX I like more than yours because they are more knowledgeable and balanced, mention that SpaceX did mention recently that preorders will be delayed due to computer chips shortage and some people may have to wait until 2023 to get a terminal. Computer chips shortage, mind you, nothing do with Musk being "reality-challenged". Seems that why many people are still waiting to get orbital internet service. It’s an issue with capacity on the ground not capicity up there. This computer chip shortage is unforeseen by many companies and is ongoing and persistent worldwide problem, beyond SpaceX’s control. This is fault of SpaceX or Musk and beyond their control. SpaceX did overpromise but many other companies did. Dell promised me I would receive a new computer I ordered in two months but I received mine in nine months because of shortage of graphic cards which is due to said ongoing shortage of computer chips, and I only got one update on my order. Is it fair to single out SpaceX on that? How about you taking issue with Dell too for me for overpromising and not verbose enough as well? Who knows when one get supply of that and that as predictable supply is out in this COVID-19 economy with all the issues with supply lines? It’s easy to criticize from the armseat, but have you tried to run a business faced with Covid-19 supply issue problem I wonder, can you do a better job predicting to your customers when you get this and that and so therefore you can deliver in this and that date?

As for the internet service itself, I have read many positive comments on Ars Techinca articles on Starlink from people who got their terminals who did appreciate the bandwidth and latency of internet service they are receiving, so it seems to me any allegedly current issues with the internet service itself is overblown AFIAK and just another of those politically manufactured problem bullshit IMHO and nothing to breathlessly write over it. If there is any significant issue with the internet service itself, it seems not to be widely-spread.

Musk did say that he does not expect to serve a lot people in urban settings and they are usually more well-served in the internet service market anyways relatively speaking. He did make out that the service is more appropriate for like the traditionally underserved people living in small towns and the countryside and remote places, and that the point of Starlink, is it? Its not your traditional internet provider aiming to serve everyone, who says that?, it aim to serve the underserved in non-urban settings . And I have yet to see how this is not a good or unacceptable solution or unimportant or not life-changing for at least a couple of millions of people hurting from lack of access to decent and relatively affordable internet service in the near future. Surely people know this is imperfect and partial solution, but it is a solution of sorts and commendable.

you pooh pooh it’s "only" 500k-800k subscribers right now who got good solution, it’s still 500k-800k more than before. And I’m sure those people wont appreciate your poohing at their getting decent internet service. And who says it will not be millions of people more getting decent internet service as well in say like four, five years? I assume the computer chips shortage would be by time solved and also more technical obstacles are overcome by Musk? he’s proven good at that, you surely know?

Are you aware that he’s from engineering background not PR or customer service background? and that he’s very focused on coming up with techncal solutions and products and surely its somewhat understandable that he’s bad with PR or customer service as that is not his expertise or focus? He cant be good in everything business-related. He has people for that but guess they are bad but you can’ t expect him hands on this as I’m sure he has hands full leading the technical aspects of the business. Maybe expectations of him is too high when it comes to customer service? and really, should any beef related to customer service should be directed at SpaceX the company, not Elon Musk, the man? How much of that is his own fault, who knows, but he can’t do everything at SpaceX you know. And you cant expect him.to kiss asses because he didnt get to where he is by kissing asses.

He may not be likeable and really how does that matter as long as he does deliver… eventually? As to coming up with technical solutions he’s good at it. Only if more people would recognize this and have a little more faith in his abilities and more patience and he may pleasantly surprise. I don’t think his record is that bad. How people easily forget Tesla? It’s one if the most valuable company in the world thanks to Musk’s technical related abilities and leadership. Note that Telsa also have same issue with computer chips but I read it fare well in relation to other electronic car companies faced with same issue thanks to some creative solution of adapting used computer chips in some part and this speaks well about Musk’s technical leadership, doesnt it? Is it not reasonable to expect that Musk will succeed with Starlink give time and luck?

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Starlink

If you think Karl Bode hasn’t covered the abysmal customer service (basically the abysmal service, period) of the telecoms, you haven’t been reading him.

If Starlink isn’t an outlier, that should be cause for concern because Musk entered the telecom industry claiming he’s do better than the other guys when he clearly hasn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

customer service? what customer service….We have been down for 5 days and can’t get any one to call us back. You cant call anyone, you have to text and those go unnoticed. We live in the mountains and our only choice was Hughes Net which was a joke. When we signed up for Starlink we were so excited to be able to get the internet! We were excited for too long. Our electricity went our and that was that. No internet. Really looking forward to this. Guess we have to go back to the slow stuff where we have to get up at 2AM to use the data.

Farrell says:

Starlink

Final fall, reviews emerged displaying what number of of those customers had been ready months for any replace in any respect on the progress of their orders, and that Starlink customer support was completely nonexistent. Almost 4 months later and one other report signifies that issues have not seemingly improved a lot. Prospects who’ve been ready a 12 months for service say they’ve seen full and whole radio silence from the corporate:

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