Starlink and Global Politics

Oct 29, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Policyband Editor

In the U.S., the big communications battle between government and broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs) involves the long-running matter of Net Neutrality. There’s nothing special about this dispute. It’s old and familiar, and Washington battles the private sector all the time, whether the issue involves Big Tech, Big Oil, or Big Banks.

But there’s one ISP that stands out for having political disputes that are truly unique within the communciations sector, and that’s Starlink — the satellite-based ISP with nearly 5,000 satellites circling the globe and serving about 60 countries, including the U.S.

Starlink’s disputes are, as the saying goes, next level. They are global, they are military, and they are geopolitical, injecting Starlink owner Elon Musk into the middle of hot wars and potential conflict zones.

Just this weekend, an Israeli leader slammed Musk for saying Starlink would provide Internet connectivity to “internationally recognized aid organizations” in Gaza.

Last month, Ukraine military officials blasted Musk for not enabling Starlink service ahead of a September 2022 attack on Russian military targets in the Crimean Peninsula. Former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev praised Musk’s decision.

Finally, the government of Taiwan is concerned about relying on Starlink in the event China attacks and disables vital undersea communications cables. Taipei is concerned about Musk having conflicts because Musk builds about 700,000 Teslas in Shanghai. Starlink is not active in Taiwan.

Musk is evidently hoping the Pentagon will drag him away from personal involvement in wars. Musk’s SpaceX — Starlink’s corporate parent — has a one-year, $70 million contract to develop a military version of Starlink called Starshield — owned by the U.S. government and controlled by the Pentagon’s Space Force.

Still, while the ancient Net Neutrality fight seems to occupy much of the time of the legal-regulatory apparatus inside the walls of the broadband ISP community, Starlink leader Musk has much bigger issues to deal with.