Musk’s Starlink persists in unauthorized areas despite shutdown warnings

(Bloomberg) — Elon Musk’s Starlink service continues to operate in multiple unauthorized regions, defying warnings issued by the company last month that its satellite internet will be shut down by May 1 in areas where it is not licensed to operate.

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SpaceX’s Starlink sent emails to customers in several African countries last month warning that it would restrict roaming where the service was not allowed.

Despite the promise to cut off access, Adam Mohamed, a resident of conflict-affected El-Fasher in Sudan, was able to answer Bloomberg’s questions in an interview on Wednesday. “I am currently speaking to you through the Starlink connection, it is the only way to connect between people, especially those who fled war,” he said.

The Starlink notices came after an investigation in March by Bloomberg News, which revealed for the first time the extent to which Musk’s satellites are being used in countries around the world where it is illegal to operate, including territories governed by repressive regimes. The ease of smuggling of the kits and the sheer availability of Starlink on the black market suggested that their misuse was a systemic global problem and raised questions about the company’s control of a system with broad national security dimensions.

Read more: Elon Musk’s Starlink terminals are falling into the wrong hands

Following the investigation, as well as a similar report weeks later in The Wall Street Journal, Starlink sent emails to account holders warning “if you are operating your Starlink kit in an area other than the areas designated as – available – on the map of Starlink availability, We would like to remind you that this violates the terms of Starlink and, starting April 30, 2024, you will not be able to connect to the Internet,” according to communications seen by Bloomberg and first reported by the Journal.

Bloomberg has seen emails sent to users in South Africa and Botswana, following earlier reports that people in Sudan would be among those affected.

However, an online survey of almost 100 Starlink customers in South Africa showed that 73% were still able to access the service after the deadline. Some Starlink users Bloomberg spoke to in Sudan said their service had been cut off, while others reported they could access the internet without interruptions.

“Starlink can implement virtual barriers to prevent unauthorized users from connecting to its network in restricted areas,” according to Manuel Ntumba, a New York-based Africa geospatial, governance and risk expert. Still, he said, “successful implementation of these measures requires collaboration with regulatory bodies.”

SpaceX, Starlink’s parent company, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Neither did South Africa’s telecommunications regulator or a spokesperson for the Sudanese military.

In its emails to users, the company said its roaming services are only intended for “temporary travel and transit” and not permanent use in an unlicensed location. It advised those who accessed terminals in a different jurisdiction for more than two months to “change your account country or return to the country in which you requested your service,” at the risk of having your service restricted.

Read more: StarLink stops internet service in Zimbabwe pending license

Starlink offers broadband Internet transmitted from a network of approximately 5,500 satellites that SpaceX began launching in 2019. With more than 2.6 million customers already, Starlink has the potential to become a major source of revenue for SpaceX, a company which began as Musk’s way of fulfilling his ambition to explore Mars and has now become the largest private contractor for the US government’s space program and a dominant force in national security.

Musk, until recently the richest person in the world, has said there will be a limit to the amount of money SpaceX’s satellite launch services business will generate, while Starlink could eventually reach revenue of $30 billion per year. anus.

But given security concerns around a private American company controlling Internet service, SpaceX must first sign agreements with the governments of each territory.

The company, which recently struck a deal to operate in Israel, said it plans to launch tens of thousands of additional satellites to connect places that are too remote for terrestrial broadband, or that have been cut off by natural disasters or conflict.

Read More: Musk’s Starlink Inching Closer to Yemen License, Official Says

Humanitarian organizations in Sudan, for example, have warned that restricting service will undermine their work across the country, which has been embroiled in civil war since April 2023.

“We have contacted Starlink to consider the situation in Sudan and not cut services. Most emergency rooms, public kitchens and thousands of people use Starlink Internet to survive,” Hadreen, a local charity, said in a statement.

Residents in the state told Al-Jazeera that local Starlink stores, which are mainly operated by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), have been suspended in some areas since last week.

Most of the local Starlink stores have been closed, Musab Mahmoud from the town of Al-Hasahesa in the western state told Al-Jazeera.

But others, including Khartoum’s Khalid Hassan, told Bloomberg he still uses Starlink.

“Today I received a transfer from my brother who resides in Uganda. RSF soldiers still run the Starlink stores,” he said.

–With help from Loren Grush and Eric Johnson.

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