from the this-is-not-what-innovation-looks-like dept
We’ve noted a few times that Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite broadband service is going to have a hard time meeting expectations. One, while the service is often sold as a near-magical cure for the estimated 20-42 million Americans without broadband access, it only has the capacity to serve somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 users. Due to additional supply chain issues, only about 150,000 users have received access so far. And those who’ve paid the company $100 to wait in line say the company is incapable of giving them any kind of timeline of when they can expect service.
Last fall, reports emerged showing how many of these users had been waiting months for any update whatsoever on the progress of their orders, and that Starlink customer service was utterly nonexistent. Nearly four months later and another report indicates that things haven’t seemingly improved much. Customers who’ve been waiting a year for service say they’ve seen complete and total radio silence from the company:
“Insider spoke to more than ten people who have waited nearly 12 months for Starlink’s internet service. However, they have received no updates from Elon Musk’s company on when Starlink will be available in their area and if the kit is on its way.”
Much like Musk’s Tesla solar division, and Tesla itself on occasion, installations, repairs, and fundamental customer service are often no shows. You’re apparently supposed to pretend this isn’t happening for innovation’s sake, but there’s little use for innovation for products that don’t work, or simply never arrive. In Starlink’s case, users who’ve ordered see absolutely no contact for Starlink for a year, then when they ask for refunds that doesn’t go much better:
“Jason Kirkpatrick, who is based in Michigan, told Insider that he paid $100 to secure Starlink in March but decided to request a refund in December because of the lack of contact from SpaceX. Kirkpatrick said that when he logs onto his Starlink account, it says his deposit was refunded. However, he said he never got the money back, adding that he can’t get through to SpaceX to alert them of the issue.”
As with many issues at Musk’s companies, these problems could be mitigated if it had an actual PR department willing to discuss what’s going on with the press and public. But motivated by Musk’s animosity to the press, the general response to inquiries is usually snark by Musk or dead silence by the company, which doesn’t add much to the overall ambiance of dysfunction. Again, you’ll notice a bit of a pattern if you’ve read about the experiences of Tesla solar customers, where the company’s response has generally been either apathy or silence.
As for Starlink, I imagine more disappointment lays over the horizon. Starlink’s inability to offer service to more than 500-800k subscribers depends greatly on the success of the Space X’s Raptor engine, a development process that’s not going well. If Starlink can’t boost its capacity dramatically it can’t gain the kind of critical mass necessary to make a profit, something that even the reality-challenged Musk has been forced to acknowledge. This is before you even get to the whole light pollution scientists say is being caused by Starlink deployments.
The problems are one of several reasons why folks complained when the Trump FCC threw nearly one billion in subsidies at Starlink, despite both Musk’s professed disdain for subsidization, and the fact the service — even if everything goes perfectly well, will barely put a dent in the U.S. broadband problem. Again, 20-42 million Americans lack access to broadband, and another 83 million live under a monopoly (usually Comcast). Fixing that problem is going to take a lot more than just a capacity-constrained, delay-plagued solution from a company that’s heralded for innovation but seemingly can’t answer the phone.