French court says non to Starlink

Starlink, SpaceX's budding satellite broadband service, has just received a setback in France that may dent its ambition to become a global provider of broadband services using a mesh of thousands of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

France's highest administrative court, the Conseil d'État, has essentially stripped Starlink of its license to operate in two frequency bands in the country, reversing a decision made by French telecoms regulator Arcep in February 2021.

The decision is a setback for Starlink in France.
 (Source:  Official Space X Photos on Flickr CC2.0)
The decision is a setback for Starlink in France.
(Source: Official Space X Photos on Flickr CC2.0)

The Arcep decision was challenged by two activist environmental groups in France, which accused the regulator of abusing its power. The court appears to have concurred with that viewpoint, and reprimanded Arcep for not following due process before granting access to the frequencies.

It seems that because the decision to grant the licenses to Starlink "could impact the market of access to high-bandwidth internet and affect the interests of end users," Arcep should have consulted the public in advance, the court said.

Starlink had been authorized to use the frequencies 10.95-12.70GHz for space-to-Earth and 14-14.5GHz for Earth-to-space transmissions.

The two French groups that challenged the Arcep decision are the snappily named Pour Rassembler, Informer et Agir contre les Risques liés aux Technologies ElectroMagnétiques (PRIARTEM) and Agir pour l'Environnement.

A Reuters report noted that Starlink has not yet commented on the ruling.

Big ambitions

News has certainly been mixed for Starlink, which recently revealed that it has surpassed 250,000 subscribers.

It gained some kudos for reconnecting areas of Ukraine in collaboration with Vodafone Ukraine, and also apparently helped Tonga restore Internet connectivity after the eruption of an undersea volcano broke its only international fiber-optic link on January 15.

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However, analysts at MoffettNathanson warned that Starlink will need to pick up the pace of satellite launches if it's to have a chance of fulfilling its ambition. Although SpaceX was recently valued at over $100 billion, MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett expressed concerns that investors have yet to "come to grips with all of the implications" of the audaciousness of the company's ambitions.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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