Elon Musk’s Starlink Gets Even More Expensive

from the don't-believe-the-hype dept

We’ve noted for a while now how Elon Musk’s Starlink low-orbit satellite broadband service isn’t going to be the miraculous revolution many people think. For one thing, the service can currently only provide service to a maximum of around 800,000 subscribers globally. For context, around 20-40 million people in the U.S. lack broadband, and 83 million live under a broadband monopoly (usually Comcast).

Another issue: for millions of Americans the real issue is broadband affordability (see this OTI report on the subject). Starlink already wasn’t cheap, launching at a price point of $100 a month, with a $500 first month down payment for hardware. The company is now bumping the monthly price to $110 per month, and users will now have to shell out $600 for the same hardware:

“SpaceX’s internet-from-space program Starlink is increasing prices for both the purchase of Starlink kits and for the monthly service, according to a new email sent out to customers this afternoon reviewed by The Verge. The company says the “sole purpose of these adjustments is to keep pace with rising inflation.”

The service currently has around 250,000 active users worldwide. Roughly 500,000 people have pre-ordered, many of whom have been waiting for more than a year for service. Those users were already pissed off because Starlink customer service (or even a basic email update on shipping status) is basically non-existent.

Now, not only are new customers having to pay more for service, customers who already pre-ordered are being told they have to pay $550 for the hardware (instead of the $500 originally stated), and they’re understandably not particularly happy about it at forums like Reddit:

Went to bed early last night not feeling the best. Woke up this morning feeling better and checked my phone. EMAIL FROM STARLINK. YES! THE WAIT MUST BE OVER!

Nope. Still waiting… but here’s a $50 price increase for the dish and a $11 per month increase. What a kick in the nuts.

To be clear, Starlink is a nifty service if you can get it. Reviews so far have been decidedly average, though for many rural users gigabit service with low latency is going to be a huge upgrade from nothing, crappy DSL, or pricey, slow, and capped traditional satellite broadband.

Starlink’s obstacles are several fold. Musk has already made it clear that the service won’t have the capacity to disrupt existing duopolies, and may be tricky to keep financially viable even with a focus on underserved areas. Obtaining the scale needed to be profitable also requires fixing Dragon engine production woes and ramping up satellite production despite ongoing supply chain issues.

Even if everything goes perfectly smoothly, and the company launches its full array of 42,000 low orbit satellites, the maximum global reach is still estimated to be only around 6 million subscribers — which would still only be a drop in the bucket for demand in the U.S. alone. The uncertainty of whether Starlink will even survive means the FCC likely should stop subsidizing the billionaire-backed effort.

The other issue: as more users flood to the network, the inherent physics of limited satellite capacity means the company will likely start implementing restrictions on usage, whether that’s the throttling of HD video, or the imposition of usage caps and overage fees, driving up already high prices further.

And this is all before you even touch on the fact that scientific researchers say the Starlink constellation is creating significant light pollution that harms scientific research and cannot be mitigated (Musk stated in 2020 Starlink would “not cause any impact whatsoever in astronomical discoveries.”).

So again, while Starlink is a great niche option if you can actually get and afford it, anybody acting as if it’s going to disrupt a broken U.S. telecom market isn’t living in reality. It’s taking a year for many people to get it, it’s not affordable for a large swath of the people who need it most, and even at maximum potential it will struggle to have any meaningful impact on the US broadband market.

It’s a nifty niche product with a lot of obstacles to overcome to succeed and survive. Most broadband policy experts I talk to still think it makes better sense to spend the majority of investment cash on deploying “future proof” fiber to more places, and plugging any remaining holes with fifth-generation (5G) technology.

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Companies: spacex, starlink

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Comments on “Elon Musk’s Starlink Gets Even More Expensive”

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OldMugwump (profile) says:

If the problem is "affordability", the problem is not about broadband

Access to competitive broadband in rural areas is one thing.

“Affordability” is another thing entirerly. If people can’t afford stuff offered on a competitive (not monopolistic) basis, it’s because they don’t have enough money. Totally. Different. Problem.

Maybe we want to subsidise people who live in rural areas, maybe not. Maybe we want to give poor people money, maybe not.

But don’t point your finger at “broadband” and say that’s a problem, if it’s available competitively.

Broadband is a neccessity of modern life, just like electricity, housing, food, and clothing. If some people can’t afford it, that’s because they don’t have enough money.

It’s not a problem with the broadband.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Karl, you're really down on Starlink

Karl, you seem really down on Starlink generally – not just in this post. I don’t get why. It’s almost like you’re a shill for the incumbent telecoms that it competes against (I’m not accusing you – it just sounds that way.)

Sure, it’s not a magic wand that fixes all the world’s broadband problems, but it’s an immense advance over the status quo. It’s the only practical low-latency solution for rural people.

You should be cheering them on (and their competitors such as OneWeb too), not dissing them.

Re specifics:

  • There are no “Dragon engine production woes”. Dragon is SpaceX’s crew capsule. It has nothing to do with Starlink – you’re thinking of Raptor engines for the new Starship rocket. (The production problem seems to be mostly solved now. Starship will help bring Starlink’s price down once it’s working.)
  • Orbital satellites were invented in 1957, 65 years ago. Did you really think the sky was going to remain pristine and empty forever? Did you also expect never to see the sight of airplanes marring the beauty of clouds after the Wright Brothers invented airplanes in 1903? The fact that we see few satellites today is a sign of the retarded development of space travel compared to aviation. But eventually Earth’s skies were always bound to be filled with spacecraft – it has always been just a question of when. The fact that it’s finally happening now is a welcome sign of progress.

Astronomers, like everyone else, love to whine about every inconvenience, but they have lots of options, and low-orbit satellites are only a photography problem near sunrise/sunset (the rest of the time the satellites are in the Earth’s shadow and invisible). Serious scientific astronomy will move off Earth altogther, for the same reason professional telescopes are sited far from from city light pollution. That’s a good thing – nobody reasonable wants to go back to cities without electric light (a few astronomers excepted!). Nor will we want to go back to a world without satellites all over the place.

Be happy, Karl, – we don’t live in a utopia, but things are getting better!

OGquaker says:

Re: Getting way out of hand! I will not fly, since 2001.

Ticketed air travel(“airlines”)above the skies of America average 10,000 each weekday morning, the World Bank (IATA) says airliners transported 4.4 billion persons worldwide in 2018 but just 1.025 billion in 1990. Gloom has descended across this planet, See https://epod.usra.edu/blog/2002/04/atlantic-contrails.html

P.S. With this massive burning of kerosene, the daughters of combustion have been scavenging our Florine and Chlorine from the stratosphere, making the Ozone hole moot. Small pittance.

LeoLib (user link) says:

LEO Libraries

Every Community Connected!
With nearly half of humanity remaining on the wrong side of an ever widening digital divide, the incremental expansion of traditional terrestrial connectivity infrastructures and service models continue to prove inadequate in the face of three main barriers to adoption: availability, affordability and usability.

Proposal: “LEO Libraries” Pandemic has clarified the urgent near universal need for access to services like telehealth, distance learning, remote working, government services/ information and as backup against outages. LEO Libraries is an initiative that marries potentially game changing low earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet access technology with enabling services of public libraries or other centers.

Without available robust broadband connections to the global internet, the questions of affordability and usability are almost moot. Emerging LEO based systems have begun providing hundred+ Mbps connectivity at low latencies in hardest to serve locations. They have the potential actually address heretofore intractable problems involved in building out wired and wireless terrestrial infrastructures as the cost of broadband internet delivery from space is essentially the same anywhere.

From books themselves to first generation broadband, public libraries have a long history of acquiring and sharing a wide range of resources on a no-fee / low-fee basis that may otherwise be unaffordable for many. Libraries and other similar community access centers almost uniquely offer no/low-cost access to shared ICT solutions as well as potentially critical backup against outages.

Essential skills, devices, content, relevance, safe comfortable spaces and other resources are necessary to make the internet useful and desirable. Along with training and support, libraries offer environments that can provide open access to anyone in their communities.

This global campaign encourages libraries everywhere to join an open exploration of the capabilities and potential of this new technology to connect the unconnected and enable library digital services to support the needs of thousands of under and unserved communities.

Not the be all end all to everyone having affordable robust BB, but a step for every community. Check with your local library to see if they might give it a look.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Facts and realities

“For one thing, the service can currently only provide…

First; star link is not the solution to broadband problems. So what.
Any option is better than no option at all. I dare to say; generally people who state it’s “not a solution” have never been in a no-option situation.
A bad choice is better than no choice.

“Starlink constellation is creating significant light pollution that harms scientific research and cannot be mitigated”

Sorry, but Ars is quoting flat out lies with the “cannot” aspect.
Research doesn’t mandate an exact spot. Move over there. It’s a problem! Not a denial.
Nor must space research be done on earth! Too many satellites in your way and unwilling or incapable of moving? Launch your own 🚀!
Or borrow someone else’s!

“The company is now bumping the monthly price to $110 per month, and users will now have to shell out $600 for the same hardware:”

Price Increase for new users. It’s still lower cost of entry than most buy-it satellite service options. Which range from $750-$1500 in equipment.

It’s not like Starlink is on some other planet. There’s shortages everywhere. And shortages increase cost. You think they don’t have the same problems every one else does?

So the sole issue here that actually is worth discussing is:

“pre-ordered are being told they have to pay $550 for the hardware (instead of the $500 originally stated)

Is this fair? No. Legal? I don’t know. But when you preordered that graphics card or new processor or that bottle of brand new wine, or car, or game?
And the release is more expensive than the original estimate?
Things like that happen in life. It sucks but it’s not some unique occurrence here. Pay the final rate or cancel the order.

The only thing absolutely illegal is increasing the cost after payment but before delivery, and not refunding a cancellation of the higher cost.

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