Starlink faces licence delay as DoT seeks clarity from DPIIT

Approvals to Elon Musk-owned Starlink for starting satcom services in India may get delayed with the communications ministry now seeking clarity from the Department for Promotion of Industry & Internal Trade (DPIIT) about mandatory ownership disclosure rules.DPIIT had in 2020 amended the foreign investment policy to make prior government approval mandatory for inflows from countries sharing a land border with India through Press Note 3, which also requires all foreign investors to share complete shareholding details so as to check if there are any investors from countries sharing a land border with India, like China.

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Starlink, however, has refused to reveal full shareholding details of parent SpaceX, claiming that the latter being an unlisted entity, US privacy laws bar it from making a full disclosure on this score, officials aware of the matter said.

“SpaceX has only given a declaration that none of its investors are from countries, which share a land border with India,” a senior official told ET. “The company has requested that this declaration be accepted for granting approval for the GMPCS (global mobile personal communication by satellite services) licence.”

But the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) wants clarity on whether approval should be given to Starlink based on its declaration, or if full details must be sought from SpaceX before issuing a GMPCS permit, officials said.

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“We want to know if privacy laws of other countries can be a valid reason for not sharing complete shareholding details for getting a GMPCS license in India,” another official said. ET’s queries to Starlink remained unanswered at press time Sunday. A GMPCS licence is a key requirement for starting satcom services in India. Bharti Enterprises-backed Eutelsat OneWeb and Reliance Jio’s satcom venture already have this permit. Jeff Bezos-led Amazon, too, has applied for a licence for its Project Kuiper satellite broadband venture.

Space sector regulator, IN-SPACe recently estimated India’s space economy had the potential to hit $44 billion by 2033 and account for about 8% of the global share by then, up from around 2% now.

Apart from the development around shareholding pattern, Starlink’s security check has been cleared by the government after the company cleared the air around data storage and transfer norms. “DPIIT should clarify if we are to seek full shareholding details from Starlink to verify that no investors with land border countries have a share in it, or if the current declaration is enough,” the second official said.

In a previous case, a company had given a declaration that none of its investors were from countries sharing land borders with India but eventually the government learnt that a miniscule percentage of shareholding of of that company was with investors from Pakistan and Bangladesh, the official said.

ET had earlier reported how Starlink was asked to give definite answers to queries around data storage and transfer after its earlier submissions failed to satisfy the government. Starlink had previously told the government that since its constellation was global, it would follow international norms around data storage and transfer.

That position was rejected by the government, which wanted Starlink to comply with Indian rules around data storage. This is the second attempt by SpaceX to gain a foothold in the Indian satcoms market. In 2022, it was forced to return pre-booking money to applicants in the country after DoT asked it to first seek regulatory approvals.