Starlink loses its frequencies in France, but it’s not their fault

Turnaround for Starlink in France. The procedure allowing it to operate frequencies was canceled in early April. At stake, an error by the telecommunications regulator, which forgot to organize a public consultation.

Bad news for anyone who relied on Starlink to get an Internet connection in France. The Council of State issued a judgment on April 5, 2022 that puts the Internet access service in difficulty: in fact, the highest administrative court in the country canceled the authorization that allowed Starlink to provide its offer in France.

A regulator error on Starlink

In this case, Starlink is not directly at fault. The crux of the problem lies in the way the telecommunications regulator handled the case. The Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications (Arcep) should have organized a public consultation on the arrival of the satellite operator in France, but this was not done.

🇧🇷 When making this decision [d’autoriser Starlink à exploiter des fréquences en France pour délivrer son offre d’accès à Internet] without previously consulting the public, Arcep disrespected the provisions […] postal code and electronic communications “, writes the Council of State. It is, therefore, a procedural defect, which the institution puts an end to.

Starlink is a satellite Internet access service. Launched by the American company SpaceX in 2020, it has a vast network of satellites placed in low Earth orbit, but also several ground stations to send and receive data with the rest of the Internet. But Internet users are connected directly to satellites with dedicated kits.

A Falcon 9 rocket lift off, with Starlink satellites on board. // Source: SpaceX

Starlink has the argument of being able to bring broadband and very high speed to very isolated regions to deploy conventional networks, but also offer a means of reconnecting areas affected by a natural disaster, for example. The news also highlighted Starlink as its kits are used in Ukraine to help the population.

Starlink’s interest in France is the subject of discussion, given the good network that already exists in the metropolitan area – as for overseas France, it is a route considered more relevant. Starlink’s offer is expensive compared to existing fixed and mobile solutions, but it is true that these are not always available everywhere.

Arcep’s green light dates from February 2021. Its decision concerns two frequency channels: the bands from 10.95 to 12.70 GHz (space-to-Earth direction) and 14 to 14.5 GHz (Earth-to-Earth direction) ). space) for user terminals, and 17.8 to 19.3 GHz (space-to-earth direction) and 27.5 to 30 GHz (earth-to-space direction) for gateways.

A flaw that puts Starlink’s service in France at risk

However, given the size of the constellation created by Starlink (with a basic objective of 12,000 satellites, and more in the future), the market should have been consulted on the impact that this new entry into the telecommunications field could have on the access offer. high-speed Internet access and customer interests.

This procedural loophole was exploited by PRIATEM and Agir pour l’environnement, two environmental associations that demanded ” annulment by excess of power of this decision “, recalls the Council of State, which it judged to have legitimacy to act, namely in health matters – even if, here, the waves of Starlink dishes are not in question.

Starlink satellite dish
A dish pointed towards the sky to pick up signals from the Starlink satellites. // Source: Starlink

The effects of this cancellation are yet to be assessed, but it will probably be necessary to start from the starting point, with a request from Starlink for the investigation to take place in due form, with public consultation. It is not specified in the Council of State judgment whether this has the effect of cutting the radio frequencies or whether it will be necessary to wait for the result of the new procedure.

Even so, this reversal of the situation raises some concerns, such as the a testimony from businessman Michel Levy Provençal: ” I know several digital entrepreneurs, including myself, who depend on this solution. Without it and without fiber, we will find ourselves in an almost white zone. How can such a decision be taken by the Council of State without measuring its economic impact? 🇧🇷


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