Issues posed by the call for comments on the Starlink license

Posted by on June 8, 2024  /  0 Comments

It’s an interesting request for public comments that has been issued by the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission. The Act makes specific provision for public notice proceeding for system licenses under s. 17, but this is for a license under section 22 which covers the use of frequencies and equipment that use those frequencies.

The frequency band that Starlink devices use is likely to be a band globally coordinated for GMPCS [Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite] devices by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). It’s unlikely that there would be interference issues. Normally s. 22 licenses would contain conditions that address interference, such as maximum power and a license fee.

The TRC is likely to address problems of a “level playing field” that come up when a global tech company offers the same service that a local company does. From the perspective of a customer, Uber and PickMe offer the same service. But the tax burdens on PickMe are said to be higher, giving Uber an unfair advantage.

Similarly, the satellite-based data services offered by Starlink are functionally no different from what one could obtain from an existing service provider that uses antenna mounted on towers (except for being available even in remote locations currently unserved by terrestrial companies). The latter companies collect various kinds of taxes on behalf of the state and also pay corporate income tax. It is likely that the TRC will seek to impose the same obligations on Starlink. This require finesse because usually these obligations are not attached to s. 22 licenses. Of course, this would mean that the cost to Sri Lankan customers of Starlink services will be higher than the speculated USD 120 equivalent.

It would be useful see what conditions are attached to other section 22 licenses, but they are not available on the TRC website. The 1999 Rules applicable to GMPCS services, the class that Starlink belongs to, are available. It may be necessary to amend and update them now that 25 years have passed.

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