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.

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Companies: spacex, starlink

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Comments on “Usage Caps Coming To Starlink As Capacity Crunch Rears Its Head”

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OGquaker says:

Re: Re: ButWhatAbout

Nov. 2, 2022,
“NPR launched a paid podcast bundle on Tuesday, giving subscribers access to bonus content, ad-free episodes, and other perks from nearly a dozen NPR podcasts including Planet Money, Fresh Air, and Code Switch. To join NPR+, listeners must make a new recurring contribution to their local member station starting at $8/month or $96/year.” ©

anon says:

Re: Re: ?50 to 100M?

You’re only 2x to 4x too high. I would guess that at this time, each starlink satellite costs less to launch than it does to build, so $2M per satellite into orbit.

Also, what would 30mbit (up and down) via Hughesnet cost per month? Because that’s the only other option that isn’t $10k/mile for cable internet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And, what does fiber and 5G have to say about his available base of subscribers?

Musk would probably be screwed if people on the ground could get their shit together; I guess that would just leave the markets of airlines, ships, camping/mountaineering/etc., and polar scientists, and I don’t see how that can pay for thousands of satellites. The intercontinental high-frequency trading market is a bit of a wildcard; low-orbit satellite services could in theory capture that till hollow-core fiber takes over, but I have no idea how much people would pay.

The announced cap is 1 TB/month, which is about 3 Mbit/s on average; cable modems could do that 25 years ago, as could early ADSL. But there are still people who can’t get even those speeds, let alone modern fiber speeds; the large ISPs have shown little will to improve, and municipal broadband and 5G are spreading too slowly (plus, 5G is operated by cellular phone companies who are likely to hobble it with caps and fees worse than Starlink’s). So, Musk could be safe for surprisingly long.

Bill says:


I was the first commercial international satellite internet provider after NASA privatized it in 1995. TCP acceleration is based on my designs from 1995-1996. I never had actual high speed internet at my home in central colorado though, HughesNet and ViaSat simply don’t count – I’ve had them both – due to their speed of light delay and congestion due to overbooking.- until I got SpaceX Starlink this year – and there’s no long queue, mine was delivered 2 weeks after ordering last February. Speeds vary from 250Mbps to 40Mbps – compared to actual average TCP speeds on HughesNet / ViaSat if 3Mbps. A one terabyte cap won’t impact us – we average about 200GB per month.

There no cellular or wireless within 30 miles of our rural community of 53 homes and ranches. No terrestrial infrastructure besides a now technically abandoned Centurylink copper network with a CO 25 miles away.

Starlink is critical infrastructure that works, really well, despite the hit pieces like this one above. The FCC hands billions to terrestrial wireless – with ZERO expansion of capacity unless it’s in town or next to an interstate. The FCC withdrawal of funding was political BS.

Christenson says:


Sounds like you are well-covered by Starlink with or without the subsidies, and far enough away from crowds not to have too much of a bandwidth crunch.

I’m wondering why you haven’t set up a local internet coop? Looks like you could run fiber to all your houses, followed by a microwave link to cover the 30 miles to a broadband access point.

Anonymous Coward says:


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.

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