Starlink can no longer function as an internet operator in France: it was established by the highest administrative court of the national legal system. The technical plea is that ARCEP, the local communications guarantor equivalent to our AGCOM, granted the SpaceX space internet firm the license in 2021 without completing a public consultation first, but the main concerns relate to free competition and the impact on the environment.
The environmental issue, in particular, is quite multifaceted, and due to the vastness of the constellation of satellites of Musk’s company (remember that we are already well over 2,000with dozens of additions per month and the goal of reaching 50,000).
On the one hand we have already seen the impact that the many satellites can have on the activities of the telescopes dedicated to the observation of space: especially at sunset and dawn, as the constellation widens, the cases of “satellite photobombing” increase; from another, for the same reason, increases the risk of collisions, especially for spacecraft in transit towards for example the ISS – or the Moon, in a few years; on the other, as the satellites reach the end of their life cycle they reenter the Earth, destroying themselves, and releasing many metals into the air that could have a negative impact on our climate, which is already in serious trouble.
As for the monopoly, the French court observes that SpaceX has a very complete vertical integration of the Starlink business: it is able to design the satellites, to transport them into orbit, to manage them and provide the telecommunication service in first person. ARCEP said it confirmed its position, and that from a telco market point of view the number of Starlink customers represents a small percentage of the total; however the court believes there are concrete risks for the balance of other sectorsincluding the aerospace one.
At this point it is not clear what will happen; the most likely scenario is that the license will be re-granted, but with some additional terms and conditions. More will be known within a few weeks. At the same time, there is a real possibility that other countries will also decide to re-evaluate Starlink’s position – in particular, all eyes are on Germany.