Usage Caps Coming To Starlink As Capacity Crunch Rears Its Head
from the capped-and-throttled dept
We’d noted a few times how Elon Musk’s Starlink isn’t really as disruptive as it pretends to be. For one, the service keeps getting more expensive thanks to price hikes, and with a $710 first month price tag ($600 hardware fee, $110 a month) it’s too expensive for the struggling rural Americans it’s purportedly aimed at. Then there’s the year long waitlist and the complete lack of customer service.
And now there are rumblings that as the service runs into capacity constraints, it will soon be implementing usage caps and throttling. As in if you use over a set mount of bandwidth and you’re in an area with other hungry Starlink users, you’ll find your speeds reduced:
“Under such plan, after you have used your monthly limit of Priority Access data, you will continue to have an unlimited amount of ‘Basic Data’ for the remainder of your billing cycle,” the company says. “With ‘Basic Data’ your access will no longer be prioritized over traffic generated by other customers during periods of network congestion.”
Starlink speeds were already starting to slow down due to congestion on the network. Analysts had long noted that the service lacked the capacity to provide broadband to any more than a million subscribers or so worldwide. For context, 20-40 million Americans lack broadband access, and 83 million are currently stuck under a Comcast monopoly and desperately craving better access.
Musk, of course, wants to keep the service in headlines despite these capacity constraints, so he keeps on expanding the potential subscriber base, whether that’s a tier aimed at boaters (at $5,000 a month), the specialized tier aimed at RVs ($135 a month plus a $2,500 hardware kit), the aid to Ukraine, or the new plan to sell service access to various airlines to help fuel in-flight broadband services.
To be clear, Starlink is absolutely fantastic if you don’t have any other options, can afford it, can clear the long queue, and don’t care if nobody responds to your customer service inquiry. But it won’t really have the capacity to be truly disruptive, something that’s usually buried among all the familiar Musk company hype.
Even years from now, should everything go perfectly with the service, launches, new rocket development, new second gen satellites, and financing, it’s expected it will be able to serve somewhere around 9 million subscribers. And those subscribers will see an increasing array of price hikes, throttling, surcharges, and other tricks to keep the service somewhat usable thanks to the laws of physics.
So it wasn’t too surprising to see the FCC pull the nearly $1 billion in subsidy awards doled out during the Trump era. If you ask any broadband expert worth their salt, they’ll be quick to tell you that taxpayer money should be going toward future-proof, affordable fiber optics with 5G filling in the gaps. Relying too much on a capacity-constrained solution that may not exist in 10 years isn’t the safest bet.