U.S. Buries Fact It Gave Elon Musk $3 Million To Send Satellite Dishes To Ukraine
from the self-made-men dept
A couple months back, Starlink and Elon Musk got several weeks of press adulation for shipping thousands of low orbit satellite terminals to Ukraine. The units, generally capable of 100 Mbps speeds with low latency, were likely a huge help to locals struggling to maintain Internet access while under Russian assault (with the small caveat that they could inadvertently act as beacons for Russian airstrikes).
To be clear it was a good thing to help folks in a desperate situation. And, unlike past Musk promises (ventilators, innovative cave rescue submarines, working “full self driving” technology), he actually delivered and the technology wound up being useful.
But at the time, Starlink and Musk had repeatedly implied that they had donated the terminals to the Ukraine as an act of pure altruism. But a new Washington Post report indicates that the U.S. government not only wound up footing a large chunk of the bill, they wound up paying Starlink nearly three times the retail value of the hardware ($600), plus shipping:
“USAID actually agreed to purchase closer to 1,500 standard Starlink terminals for $1,500 apiece and to pay an additional $800,000 for transportation costs, documents show, adding up to over $3 million in taxpayer dollars paid to SpaceX for the equipment sent to Ukraine.”
Musk’s company still did donate 3,667 terminals, and three months of free service. That said, other NATO countries have helped foot portions of the effort, and it’s not clear to what extent, because neither government representatives nor SpaceX much want to talk about it. As a rule, Musk companies generally refuse to respond to media inquiries, then get upset about press mischaracterizations.
Again, trying to help Ukrainians get online via a public/private partnership is good (especially since the Ukrainian government asked for the help). Less good is the way that Starlink soaked up millions of dollars in free press headlines that repeatedly implied this was all an act of pure altruism:
“…the company has cast the actions in part as a charitable gesture. “I’m proud that we were able to provide the terminals to folks in Ukraine,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said at a public event last month, later telling CNBC, “I don’t think the U.S. has given us any money to give terminals to the Ukraine.”
Musk’s outward facing public persona routinely maligns government subsidization, and bristles at the idea his companies receive such aid. But under the Trump FCC, Starlink and the controversial billionaire received nearly a billion dollars in taxpayer funds in exchange for vague promises to deliver Starlink service to some airport parking lots and traffic medians.
Nobody involved in the arrangement seems particularly interested in taxpayer transparency, or offering precise details on how much taxpayers paid. In fact, the U.S. government appears to have retroactively edited a press release to remove mention of the fact the partnership is valued at around $10 million:
Sometime after the announcement, the agency removed key details from its release. It now states that USAID “has delivered 5,000 Starlink Terminals” to Ukraine “through a public-private partnership” with SpaceX, but does not specify the quantity nor value of the donations.
In short, taxpayers wouldn’t have even known they paid Musk $3 million if not for the leaked documents. The Post being a Bezos-funded paper, and Bezos’ Blue Origin being a direct Musk competitor, means it should be fairly trivial for Musk fans to concoct reasons to casually dismiss the report.
But there’s every indication Musk not only got millions in free press for his Ukraine altruism, he was able to get the U.S. government to pay him subsides three times greater than the hardware was worth. The government, knowing that subsidizing billionaires isn’t a great look given U.S. budget shortfalls elsewhere, then obscured the total. That’s fairly innovative, just not in the way headlines initially suggested.