FCC’s Carr Concerned About China’s Starlink Rival

Dec 29, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Dec. 29, 2023 – The Chinese government is developing a rival to Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite Internet service and that has a Republican on the Federal Communications Commission concerned about China’s future influence with countries in Africa and South America.

“Let's take Africa. [China] can offer nations in Africa Internet filters and censorship that are both amenable to those African nations and to the [Chinese Communist Party.] And that's a really scary world,” Carr said Tuesday during an interview with “This Week in Startups.”

China is developing a satellite Internet service called Starnet, with the goal of boosting connectivity across Asia, Africa and Europe as part of its Belt and Road Initiative centered on infrastructure assistance. In a 2020 filing. China notified the International Telecommunication Union (UTU) in Geneva of its plans to deploy 13,000 low earth orbit (LEO) communications satellites.

“Once Starnet comes online, I don't think it would take that much or that long for the CCP to start rolling up all these countries with being either the complementary service or the main service,” Carr said.

Starlink, the global leader in satellite Internet service, has 2.3 million customers, including 1.3 million in the U.S. Aided by corporate parent SpaceX, Starlink has launched more than 5,000 LEO satellites. Starlink’s service is available in 80 markets, with Africa its fastest-growing region, according to David Goldman, Vice President of Satellite Policy for SpaceX.

Amazon’s satellite Internet service – Project Kuiper – is just starting, having successfully launched two prototype satellites in October. Project Kuiper plans to deploy 3,200-satellite LEO constellation, according to Kalpak Gude, Head of Domestic Regulatory Affairs for Project Kuiper.

Carr warned China will attempt to gain market share by aggressively underpricing Starlink and Project Kuiper.

“We need to make sure that Starlink and Amazon are going. We need to be helping them lock in sort of long-term market access to countries in Africa and South America,” Carr said. “We're going to see quite the brawl happen once this Starnet technology gets up and running.”

Carr’s support for Starlink came after the FCC on Dec. 12 pulled $885.5 million in subsidies to help Starlink offer 100/20 Mbps low-latency service to about 643,000 unserved locations in 35 states. The FCC said it did not believe Starlink’s speeds would meet the necessary speed requirements by 2025.