The Elon Musk-backed satellite Internet company Starlink has hit rough terrain in India. The company, which faced administrative ire over seeking customers for its services, has now started refunding the pre-order fees to those who had signed up, in accordance with government directives.
Starlink claimed that it had more than 7,000 customers who had booked the satellite based internet service in India by paying $99 (approx Rs.7,400). They were waiting for the arrival of the requisite start-up kits. Now the users have received an email stating that they had the option of receiving “a refund anytime.”
Rather cryptic for a company that has gone to town with its capabilities and services. In October, Starlink announced beta testing of the new service in spite of facing the ire of Indian officialdom that questioned its ability to pass local regulations. Things got bad for the company when the federal government asked it to cease and desist from taking new orders.
“We have been directed by India’s DoT to refund pre-orders until we are licensed,” the company said in its email to prospective customers. It claimed that it was looking forward to making Starlink available in India at the earliest, the mailed statement said, “unfortunately, the timeline for receiving licenses to operate is currently unknown, and there are several issues that must be resolved within the licensing framework to allow us to operate Starlink in India”.
And if you thought that Starlink had its cup of woes full by now, things just got worse as its country head Sanjay Bhargava decided to step down.
Though he has resigned as of December 31 2021, Bhargava made it public only on the day when the company initiated the refunds. A LinkedIn post confirming an end to his short stint in the company reads, “I have stepped down as Country Director and Chairman of the Board of Starlink India for personal reasons… my last working day was December 31, 2021. I will have no comments…”
A report in ET confirms that the company is indeed processing the refunds to the customers. It cites a senior DoT official who says “they (read: Starlink) are in the process of refunding… somebody from their organization came and met us a few weeks back and told us so.”
Elon Musk’s ambitious project started facing problems when the Indian Telecom Ministry rebuked it for accepting pre-ordered illegally. In a series of Twitter posts, the ministry warned users to not pre-order Starlink’s Satellite internet service and stated that the company has been illegally accepting such orders.
Not the end of road
DoT also asked Starlink to apply for the requisite licenses in order to operate as a service provider in the country. Though following the guidelines, the company stopped accepting any fresh orders and Sanjay Bhargava clarified via another LinkedIn post that the company is already in process of setting up a local entity and aims to apply for the licenses by the end of January 2022.
As of now the customers who have already pre-booked the service can log in to their account on Starlink’s website and request a refund.
Though, initiation of refunds might not be the end of the road for Starlink. The company has some mega plans for India and a presentation that we saw earlier stated that the company aims to start offering its services by April this year with a target of setting up 200,000 devices in the country by the end of the year.
Apart from Starlink, Bharti-backed OneWeb and Amazon’s Project Kuiper are other similar service providers who aim to beam high-speed internet via Low Earth Orbiting satellites.
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