Elon Musk’s Starlink Still Can’t Seem To Answer Basic Customer Support Emails

from the not-that-innovative dept

We’ve noted for a while now how Elon Musk’s Starlink low-orbit satellite broadband service isn’t going to have the impact many 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).

Even with everything working perfectly, we’re talking about a service that’s only going to make a very tiny dent in a very large problem. And Starlink, as a business, isn’t working perfectly.

The lack of capacity (plus some supply chain issues) has greatly constrained subscriber totals, forcing most Starlink users onto a waiting list that for many can be more than a year. Many users on said waiting list have been trying to get refunds after a recent round of price hikes on a service they haven’t received yet, only to find a company that simply can’t or won’t respond to customer support and refund inquiries:

At the end of March 2022, Sbi requested a refund of his Starlink deposit because of the price hikes – but has had trouble getting his money back because he can’t get hold of the company.

“I feel I was scammed by Starlink,” Sbi said. “This is not fair business practices. The company had my money for over a year, I need that money back, there shouldn’t be any conditions on how to receive my money back.”

This sort of problem isn’t particularly uncommon over at Tesla or Tesla solar, either (the horror stories involving installs of the latter are the stuff of legend). All three efforts are widely heralded for innovation, yet can’t respond to extremely basic consumer support inquiries. Raising prices on Starlink customers already stuck in order purgatory has proven the final straw for many:

Rich Kecher, in south Virginia, said he’d had trouble getting his Starlink deposit refunded after about a year. He told Insider of an “outrageous lack of communication” from Starlink, which had pushed back its expected start-date for service in his area from November 2021 to late-2022.

“The price increase was the final straw,” Kecher said.

To be clear, Starlink provides an amazing upgrade for users in unserved areas. But that’s assuming you can get and afford it. A major issue in U.S. broadband access gaps is affordability, and a service with a $710 first month price tag is going to be well out of reach for many. Many others who can afford it will likely find themselves elbowed out by Musk acolytes who see Starlink ownership as a status symbol.

While Musk may be heralded as an innovator he’s not particularly innovative when it comes to customer service. He’s also not single-handedly able to defeat the laws of physics. Starlink capacity constraints are likely to result in a lot more of stories like this. And it’s not going to be helped with Starlink starting to partner with major airlines despite being unable to meet demand for existing pre-orders.

Eventually, to manage this capacity crunch, I’d imagine the service will implement network management tricks that annoy users further, whether that’s throttling of high definition and 4K video, or even usage caps and overage surcharges.

Even the hype-prone Musk has repeatedly acknowledged that Starlink will have limited impact and may not be financially viable over the longer term. The low orbit satellite broadband space is pock-marked with the wreckage of similar efforts, which is why many bristled at the $886 million in subsidies doled out to the company by the Trump FCC.

Most experts believe that if you’re going to subsidize broadband, it makes sense to throw that money at pushing future-proof fiber, then filling in the nooks and crannies with 5G and fixed wireless. Starlink can will help a little, but its innovation is greatly hamstrung if users can’t get it, can’t afford it, and can’t get the company to answer an email or pick up the phone.

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Companies: spacex, starlink

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Comments on “Elon Musk’s Starlink Still Can’t Seem To Answer Basic Customer Support Emails”

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James Burkhardt (profile) says:

To those who think Twitter will be more transparent after Musk becomes CEO, think hard about how transparent Starlink is when it actually owes you goods and services you have already paid for. And then ask yourself, is Twitter going to be more or less transparent when Musk is trying to sell you as the product.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Thank you. After making a carefully crafted statement intended to not antagonize those i was speaking to as part of a science-based approach to change recalcitrant minds, you’ve gone and insulted them making them defensive and shutting out the thoughts that can worm their way into logic as the future unfolds. Particularly when my words prove true. That was exactly why i wasted my time trying.

So what’s the war strategy? i mean, if these people are so far gone that we can never agree upon anything and my attempt is so worthless that you felt the need to shit on it, i hope you have a plan when dogma eventually, inevitably leads to violence?

ECA (profile) says:

To many numbers

to correlate all the MAYBE/COULD BE.
0.25% coverage?
To bad he dont Jump in with Google Fiber.
How about Jump into the States and Bitch about the Controlled system, that Few can get into.

Bring to the front, all that money being Spread around, so that the Corps ARNT getting things done. He has the money to back himself, and could Probably get a few others to help him Blast the states.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And this could explain why the incumbents haven’t really increased their “donations” to make sure they stay in place, everything that comes along that is supposed to disrupt them doesn’t come to fruition.
Why pay the CEO 0.0001% less to increase the donations when those gunning for them are shooting themselves in the foot all on their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

The “capacity” issue is not due to lack of capacity of bandwidth, yes? I thought it was due to lack of terminals which is due to the current severe shortage of computer chips. Even some EV auto makers have temporarily closed factories due to this computer chips shortage.

If there is no capacity issue of bandwidth then no “network management tricks” are needed to be expected, no?

I expect this “capacity” issue will be eventually resolved when the computer chips shortage ease. When is a very good question but in the meanwhile customers wanting refund now should be able to receive their money back in a timely manner. Starlink has no good excuse for this failing. Maybe a Twitter campaign should be launched to bring attention to the issue of people not getting their refund from Starlink. Maybe THAT will get Musk’s attention.

Starlink’s customer service sucks, yeah, we know but so what? Why Starlink should be singled out in this? how does this compare to major broadband providers in the U.S.? Theirs are horrible for most part so I gather.

Would be nice to see the government to condition the subsidies they give to the broadband industry and Starlink for that matter on certain standards to be met in the customer service area.

Maybe the writer think subsidies are wasted on Starlink, but I think that would be short-sighted. I think it is a good long-term investment. Just need TIME to see this orbital internet technology take off. Rome is not built in one day. If this is such a “wreckage” why is Amazon getting in this business as well? Is Jeff Bezos also an idiot according to this writer?

Maybe with decent competition from Amazon, Starlink will have to improve its customer service to stay in business? No need for government intervention maybe. I don’t see orbital internet service as a hopeless cause. Either from Starlink or Amazon, I still think orbital internet technology has great potential yet to be realized in the long term. Why not be patient and give it time to develop? I think the technology still deserve support from the government.

More investment in fiber is needed certainly, but that is an issue with the government not Starlink. I actually occur with the writer that the government need to stop investing in Starlink with subsidies, but not because of the technology itself, or because Elon Musk, or because of the customer service, or light pollution claimed important enough. I think government need to stop giving subsidies to private companies.

I notice the writer like to say Elon Musk’s Starlink instead of simply Starlink like he wants to empathize on the association. Maybe to score political points with Musk’s haters in further his apparent political agenda of pushing for regulations/ending of subsidies on Starlink? But have he forgotten that Musk is ONE man. Starlink is not Musk. Is Musk only one running things at Starlink? There are senior management, investors, and a corporate board, right? Does he always get his way at Starlink or is he the only one running things there? If Starlink is at fault, is Musk equally at fault?

It’s the company that people should focus on when it comes to calling for government policies on it, because the government should have no business considering excluding subsidies to a company based merely on the unpopularity of who own it or runs it. This just open a can of worms.


This writer calling for regulations or ending of subsidies on Starlink in this article and other articles of his because?

Because the technology used is not fiber and its zero-sum for subsidies: money into orbital internet service is less money into fiber? okay, reasonable enough but I don’t know about it being a zero-sum thing.

Because light pollution? I think that is overblown.

Because worst customer service? yes I might buy that…

Because issues with the technology? okay, but I say it is just short-term, it’s still developing… what about long term?

Because Elon Musk? No, that is just dumb.

He should be not be a factor for calling out for ending subsidies or regulations on Starlink. On that, just leave him out. He’s just a red herring.

This writer is calling Musk hype-prone, is like that the pot calling the kettle black, maybe?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Capacity

The “capacity” issue is not due to lack of capacity of bandwidth, yes? I thought it was due to lack of terminals which is due to the current severe shortage of computer chips.

It may be both. The capacity is constrained by the number of satellites and the capability of those satellites. And at the same time, the network does no good if users cannot get a ground station.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ok, yes, but they are two entirely different things. first, the writer talk about waitlist and supply chain issues, he’s not talking about network capacity but ground station capacity, yes? What doe waitlists and supply chain issues have to do with network bandwidth capacity?

Then he talks about “this capacity crunch” (referring to this “capacity” he that he mentioned with waitlists and supply chain issues), he mentions “network management tricks”. What do
“network management tricks” which has to do with network bandwidth capacity, have to do with ground station capacity?

Is he conflating and being misleading?

Lack of ground station capacity is a well-known established fact and issue so big that it is widely reported by the media. This capacity thing is reason worthy to give for calling for governmental action to end subsidies or implement regulations on Starlink I can understand. But lack of network bandwidth capacity? does this indeed exist a serious issue according to the writer? Of course, I’m assuming he is being serious, I can’t tell because this writer mentioned the shortgivings of Elon Musk as like its a reason to call for governmental action on Starlink… since when his unpopularity with some people, a matter of serious discussion about government policies for Starlink? Is this blog a technology and law journalism or tabloid journalism, I wonder sometimes.

Patrick Sullivan says:


I have Starlink, and it’s wonderful. I requested service last March, they said September, but it arrived in June. It worked immediately. I get 200+ mbps routinely, but that varies by time of day. It beats the pants off any other satellite service, rarely getting even 40 mbps.

I live just north of the 45th parallel. These latitudes up here got the initial focus of satellites put in orbit. That is moving more south, which is far more populated. Covering Ukraine was temporarily important.

Their capacity may be limited somewhat by chip shortages, but more obviously, as they clearly state, the number of satellites up there is the biggest limitation. They throttle equipment releases accordingly. Launch after launch happens every month, striving to get the 30,000 they’ve stated as necessary.

I got a letter reinforcing the unlimited usage, but abusers may get limited to a few terabytes. Obviously most people fall far short of that.

Yes, just give it time to mature.

I haven’t needed any customer service.

timlash (profile) says:

Karl, Karl, Karl...

You’re really working me man. Every time you write about Starlink it seems like I have to add something to help keep you in check.

This time is especially egregious since Mike just wrote a piece regarding fact checking.

You reference 800,000 as the maximum GLOBAL subscriber market, and then link to a prior article you’ve written on Techdirt. Let me quote that article for you:

“According to his analysis of available capacity and anticipated usage, Moffett estimates that Starlink’s US TAM, at a full deployment of about 12,000 low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites (about 1,400 are in orbit today), is in the range of just 300,000 to 800,000 households, or less than 1% of the US market, Moffett notes.”

It’s 800,000 IN THE US! Not globally. The next sentence in that article, again, which you wrote, adds this:

“On the maximum end, Moffett’s study guesstimates that Starlink could ultimately serve as many as 6 million US subscribers once the company upgrades the low orbit satellites and boosts overall satellite total to 42,000.”

So…I hope this helps.

Musk never set out to solve the US Broadband issue, even if many of his fans may have cast Starlink in that vein.

Starlink is a method to generate cash flow to support Musk’s Mars ambitions. Nothing more. In fact, if Musk can use Starlink to fund getting a million people on Mars, I’d guess he’d shut the whole network down the next day.

tom (profile) says:

Add me to the Starlink customer service sucks herd.

I had paid a deposit 13 months ago. Without any warning, I received a “Your Starlink package is ready pending your confirmation.” email. At the time, I was dealing with the death of a family member and the stuff that goes with wrapping up a dead person’s affairs, and wasn’t paying much attention to that email account. I received two more emails, one a ‘3 days left’ and one a ‘1 day left’ notice. The last email was a ‘Ordered canceled, deposit will be refunded’ message. I found these messages a couple days after the Order canceled message. Starlink made no effort to contact the phone number I had provided. Even a robo-call would have clued me in to check that email account.

Like the story says, there is no published way to contact Starlink and go “But wait, I really did/do want the service.” No phone number, no email, not even a listed mailing address.

Really, only a seven day window with no advance warning? People go on vacations longer then seven days. Or have other issues that prevent frequent checking of email accounts. The claimed target audience is the very type of folks that might have long service outages with their existing service(s).

Seems Starlink is NOT really interested in providing service to those that can most benefit.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:


Man, does anyone edit these posts before they go up?

Yes. We do. Sometimes we miss stuff. Sorry.

Repeated phrases that come off as clunky, typos (it’s “latter”, not “later”), etc. Maybe the Tech Dirt staff would benefit from a couple months of Grammarly, or an editor.

Every article is reviewed/edited by at least two people. Again, sometimes we miss stuff.

You can email us or comment politely noting the errors for us to fix.

Or you can do what you did here.

Ethan says:

Fixed Wireless

Fixed wireless is not that fast for rural areas. My fixed wireless is less then 10MB/s download and 2 up I really like starlinks appeal but the cost is crazy considering it’s 3x my current bill but 15x faster. If starlink monthly gets cheaper I would get it but as a good service I’m starting to have doubts.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Looking forward

Let’s understand a few concepts here.
According to US District Court for the Southern District of New York, the two widest available satellite companies are HughesNet and Viasat.
Both of those have startup costs far beyond Starlink.
$700-$800, at a loss, is less than half these other two services if ordering directly. As a former user of both:. Sure they’re only a few hundred or less up front. But like cable companies and credit cards the entirety of what you owe is paid monthly. Hence long contracts. The equipment cost of both is over $2000 in many cases. $800 for the LNB alone! Nearly $1K for the dish and a few hundred for the receiver.
Neither of which are any more reliable than DTV or Dish. And both of which throttle and cap.

Populace reach. Any expansion is better than not. My view is let’s get coverage first. Deal with competition and cost later. Having anything is better than not having. We have more gaps and holes in our infrastructure reach than Russia, China, and Australia. The three other countries comparable in size. Siberia may have huge gaps but the population areas have internet. Even if the open tundra doesn’t. And you can get a signal, albeit slow, in the outback. And there’s some level of cell connection even in the Himalayas!
Yet whole states can’t get above 10MBps outside of a city.
And that’s assuming there’s internet at all. Montana, Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, Kentucky, …whole swathes of the states have zero internet at all. Fixed, air, or satellite. Poor Alaska.

I’m all for and all in for affordable internet for all. But we should probably start with the all before looking at affordable.
Because let’s be honest. The affordable internet claim is slightly misleading. It may be slow, but most cities have some level of internet option below $20.
Compared to the farmer who can’t get his transport agreement emailed out to the trucking firm that just went all digital. Because he has no internet at all. Step one is, or rather should be, to get some form of service to every person in the country. Then look at moving forward from there.

You can’t fight for affordable high speed if you have zero speed to start with.

nasch (profile) says:


Agreed, but Starlink is probably not the answer. At 3x oversubscription and 100% efficiency, if everything goes to plan they might be able to serve 1.5 million customers in the US in four years. Many of those will be people who already have some kind of service available. Impossible to say how many, but maybe a million people who previously couldn’t get any internet? They’ll have to expand by orders of magnitude (compared to their plan, not to where they are now) to cover everyone who needs it.


Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m neither for nor against Starlink. Could care less about the man behind it. And honestly don’t care in general.

This country needs to figure out why we’re the only modernised country with such huge gaps in actual-human-access internet. And fox it.

And seriously, I don’t give a second thought to someone crying that $20 for 5Mbps is too high. When a measurable count is on dialup or has no internet at all.
Dial up modems are still a thing here. That’s a far bigger problem than $20 for a service more than capable of streaming HD video or go-to, or zoom or whatever.
And congress needs to stop bowing to woe-is-me and start looking at people who are excluded 100%!

Satellite isn’t going to solve anything. 5G and fibre can. But only if someone is more focused on the real problem than the copy count of a speech.

Tim R Hall says:


I applied for the Starlink service over a year ago and finally recieved a notification requiring confirmation. When I tried to confirm I found that what I thought was my password was rejected as invalid. They have no means that I can see to reach someone who might care to correct that defect. I have now received a second notice this time with a 24 hour time limit to reject or accept. Same issue cannot login with my email address without the correct password. Seems like it should have had a forgotten password reset feature which is pretty much basic for everything I deal with. Would love the service and am willing to pay for it. Now I guess I will watch to see if they even refund the deposit as promised. If someone knows how to actually contact a human or a working AI let me know please.

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