SpaceX plans Starlink telephone service, emergency backup, and low-income entry

A stack of 60 Starlink satellites being launched into space, with Earth in the background.
Enlarge / A stack of 60 Starlink satellites launched in 2019.

A brand new SpaceX submitting outlines plans for Starlink to supply telephone service, emergency backup for voice calls, and cheaper plans for folks with low incomes via the federal government’s Lifeline program.

The main points are in Starlink’s petition to the Federal Communications Fee for designation as an Eligible Telecommunications Service (ETC) below the Communications Act. SpaceX stated it wants that legal designation in a few of the states the place it won government funding to deploy broadband in unserved areas. The ETC designation can also be wanted to get reimbursement from the FCC’s Lifeline program for providing reductions on telecom service to folks with low incomes.

Starlink is in beta and costs $99 monthly, plus a one-time charge of $499 for the person terminal, mounting tripod, and router. As we noted yesterday, the SpaceX submitting additionally says Starlink now has over 10,000 customers within the US and overseas. SpaceX ought to have capability for a number of million prospects within the US—the corporate has permission to deploy as much as 1 million person terminals (i.e. satellite tv for pc dishes) and is seeking FCC permission to boost the maximum-deployment degree to five million person terminals.

VoIP plans

Whereas the Starlink beta solely consists of broadband, SpaceX stated it would ultimately promote VoIP service that features “(a) voice-grade entry to the general public switched phone community (‘PSTN’) or its useful equal; (b) minutes of use for native service offered at no further cost to finish customers; (c) entry to emergency providers; and (d) toll limitation providers to qualifying low-income customers.”

Voice service will probably be bought “on a standalone foundation at charges which might be moderately akin to city charges,” SpaceX stated. The plan is not finalized, however SpaceX stated it’s exploring the usage of “a white-label managed service supplier (MSP) voice platform.”

“On this baseline plan, Starlink Providers would offer phone providers connecting customers to its MSP’s platform utilizing its community capability, which is accessible to customers via their buyer premises tools,” the submitting stated. “Customers may have the choice of utilizing a third-party, standard telephone related to a Session Initiation Protocol standards-compliant analog terminal adaptor or a native-IP telephone chosen from an inventory of licensed fashions.”

SpaceX stated it’s also exploring different phone-service choices:

Starlink Providers continues to evaluate integrating different standalone voice purposes into the Starlink community, together with different third-party suppliers, or presumably creating its personal proprietary resolution. The corporate could undertake such approaches within the occasion that additional testing demonstrates different options would offer a superior expertise to the top buyer or, if Starlink Providers determines the top person would profit from the existence of a number of voice options to introduce competitors and redundancy into the availability chain.

Emergency backup

Like different VoIP suppliers, Starlink would promote a 24-hour battery backup to prospects who need it. “On the person degree, Starlink Providers will provide a 24-hour battery back-up possibility for person tools that can present the flexibility to make telephone calls within the occasion of an influence outage,” SpaceX stated.

The 24-hour backup provide would fulfill an FCC rule handed in 2015 under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler. Although the backup possibility described in SpaceX’s submitting applies to telephone service, we have seen from the Starlink beta that the person terminal can deliver broadband with a conveyable energy provide.

SpaceX’s submitting additionally detailed backup and redundancy plans on the community degree:

Starlink Providers may have adequate back-up energy to stay useful with out an exterior energy supply in emergency conditions, will be capable of reroute site visitors round broken services, and can be capable of handle site visitors spikes ensuing from emergency conditions… On the system degree, Starlink Providers is constructing redundancy into the community. For instance, each person may have a number of satellites in view with which it could actually talk. Moreover, each satellite tv for pc may have a number of gateway websites in view with which it could actually talk. The Starlink site visitors routing system ensures that each person is served with bandwidth earlier than customers demanding extra bandwidth get further throughput assigned, which provides the Starlink community robustness within the occasion of emergencies requiring excessive throughput.


SpaceX did not present a lot element on its Lifeline plans past the truth that it intends to supply them.

“Starlink Providers presently has no Lifeline prospects as a result of solely carriers designated as an ETC can take part within the Lifeline program,” the corporate stated. However as soon as it will get the ETC designation, SpaceX stated it “will present Lifeline to qualifying low-income customers and publicize the supply of Lifeline service in a way moderately designed to achieve these more likely to qualify for the service.”

Lifeline presently supplies a $9.25 monthly subsidy for low-income households to get broadband or a $5.25 month-to-month per-household subsidy for telephone service. Based mostly on Starlink’s beta value of $99 monthly, the subsidies wouldn’t be sufficient to make that plan inexpensive for low-income customers, so we would count on SpaceX to supply different, cheaper plans to prospects who meet the low-income necessities. With Lifeline, every supplier seeks reimbursement from the fund after offering service to eligible customers.

Starlink to be common-carrier service

SpaceX’s submitting additionally stated that Starlink broadband and telephone will probably be provided as common-carrier providers. “For functions of this [ETC] designation, Starlink Providers will present broadband Web entry service and standalone voice service to the general public all through the Service Areas on a typical service foundation,” the submitting stated.

Whether or not broadband ought to be regulated as a common-carrier service has been a partisan battle. The Obama-era FCC classified ISPs as common carriers below Title II of the Communications Act as a way to implement web neutrality guidelines, and the Trump-era FCC reversed that classification. Broadband foyer teams bitterly opposed the Title II classification.

“The FCC permits carriers to supply broadband on a common-carrier foundation in the event that they so need,” Harold Feld, a longtime telecom lawyer and senior VP of consumer-advocacy group Public Data, instructed Ars.

SpaceX taking up the common-carrier classification as a part of its plan to be an ETC and settle for authorities funding would not essentially have any main significance. Nonetheless, Feld stated, “It means that [SpaceX is] unlikely to struggle towards Title II classification. Ideally, they may even assist Title II. However at a minimal, this demonstrates that they do not assume Title II widespread carriage is a few form of horrible burden that can forestall them from providing service.”

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