Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Starlink internet service has now begun providing its service in the United Kingdom, following approval by the government there.
Because the British government is now also an owner of Starlink’s direct competitor, OneWeb, this creates an interesting conflict of interest that fortunately has so far not impeded SpaceX. We shall have to see whether this changes with time.
Meanwhile, in Russia a similar conflict of interest has resulted in some government action against Starlink.
Russia’s legislative body, the State Duma, is considering fines for individuals and companies in the country that use Western-based satellite Internet services. The proposed law seeks to prevent accessing the Internet by means of SpaceX’s Starlink service, OneWeb, or other non-Russian satellite constellations under development.
…In the Russian-language article, translated for Ars by Robinson Mitchell, members of the Duma assert that accessing the Internet independently would bypass the country’s System of Operational Search Measures, which monitors Internet use and mobile communications. As part of the country’s tight control on media and communications, all Russian Internet traffic must pass through a Russian communications provider.
It is not surprising that Russia would take steps to block Starlink service—the country’s space chief, Dmitry Rogozin, views SpaceX as a chief rival in spaceflight. Rogozin has been critical of both NASA and the US Department of Defense for subsidizing SpaceX through government contracts. (While it is true that SpaceX has received launch contracts from the US government worth several billion dollars, it has also provided launch services at a significant discount compared to other providers.) More recently Rogozin has said Starlink is little more than a scheme to provide US Special Forces with uninterrupted communications.
That the legislation is also aimed at blocking OneWeb however is strange, considering that OneWeb is quite literally Rogozin’s only remaining commercial customer for Roscosmos’s launch services.
In the end, such laws will only end up doing more damage to Russia than to SpaceX. When you don’t allow competition you basically don’t allow any achievements at all. Russia will sink into a second-class status, not because its people are second-class but because its government is.
Tragically it appears the U.S. federal government is now in a race with Russia to the bottom.
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