from the a-revolution,-this-ain't dept
To be clear, Elon Musk’s Starlink broadband service is great if you have no other options and can afford it. Especially if you’ve spent an eternity stuck on an expensive 3 Mbps DSL line straight out of 2003, or a traditional, capped, expensive satellite broadband connection. The ability to get somewhere between 10 and 100 Mbps in your cabin in the woods (if it works) is a great thing.
All of that said, there are some problems in paradise. Starlink users routinely complain that the company’s customer service is every bit as terrible as Comcast’s. Limited capacity means that users are already starting to see significant slowdowns and the implementation of usage caps and overage fees. And the service continues to fall well short when it comes to the primary U.S. broadband adoption obstacle: affordability.
With last year’s price hike, Starlink users now face a $710 first month charge ($600 for hardware and $110 per month for service). And now users are being told that if they want to travel and use their dish in a different part of the world, they’ll be asked to pay a new $200 additional monthly global roaming fee.
One key issue however: Starlink is often full of shit about whether the service has actually launched in supposed launch markets, meaning you may be paying $310 a month for a service you can’t actually use once you get where you’re going.
Some users who’ve been waiting since 2021 for service (and often can’t get the company to respond to very basic email inquiries including refunds) say they’re now getting emails pitching a $200 additional fee to use Starlink in countries where it’s not actually operational and has yet to even see regulatory approval. Both in the countries users live, and the countries they’d like to travel to:
Interestingly, SpaceX sent the message to at least two people who live in countries where Starlink isn’t available. They told PCMag they’ve been waiting for Starlink access since early 2021.
“I put a deposit for (Starlink) over 2 years ago and got this mail yesterday,” said one user who is based in Greenland, a market outside of Starlink’s current service areas.
Starlink literally often can’t answer customer support email inquiries, but it has been very creative in terms of finding new ways to boost costs, including the company’s $5,000 a month luxury nautical option, or the recently introduced ability to skip ahead in the year-plus waiting period if you’re willing to pay $2,500 for a supposed “premium” option.
The combination of terrible customer service, high prices, and congestion means Starlink will never meaningfully disrupt the U.S. broadband industry (famous for all of the above), or provide adequate access to the estimated 20-40 million Americans that lack broadband or the 83 million Americans that currently live under a broadband monopoly.
Even if Starlink is able to deploy its full suite of 42,000 low Earth orbit Starlink satellites, it’s still only going to put a small dent the problem of U.S. broadband access. Which is a major reason why the FCC walked back the Trump administration’s dodgy billion dollar subsidy to the company.
What America desperately needs is more affordable, open access fiber networks and the competition such networks create, with any gaps filled in by 5G. What Starlink delivers is an expensive, throttled, niche option for those who are out of reach of fiber and 5G and who don’t care about competent customer service. Which is to say still useful, but far from the revolution it’s long been portrayed as.