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Any telecom operator who wants to launch their services in India has to pay billions of USD to the Indian government.

My query is if I'm using SpaceX Starlink based data, can the Indian government legally ask SpaceX to pay, as signals are coming through its airspace?

Has Starlink got some unique bandwidth that doesn't interfere with any other existing bands?

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    $\begingroup$ Legally it's pretty much a yes for all countries. Before SpaceX build a ground station or provide service it would definitely need to acquire the permission to use these frequencies, through the process of purchasing or leasing an license. (Inter-satellite or ground station communication that goes over but not onto Indian territory would be different). $\endgroup$ – user3528438 Jun 19 at 5:23
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    $\begingroup$ It's the other way around: SpaceX is anticipating that India and other governments will pay SpaceX. SpaceX is developing its Starlink network for one reason: To make money. Lots and lots of money. Developing the capabilities to send people to Mars and have them still alive on arrival will not be cheap, and Starlink is the mechanism SpaceX envisions to fund that work. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Jun 19 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because this is a question of local law, and has nothing to do with space exploration $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Jun 19 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft This question is on-topic; there are plenty of questions here about space law and communications! Why do you say this, have you checked the site before making this determination? voting to keep the question open because it certainly is on-topic here, is clear, and can have a fact-based answer $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 19 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen India or for that matter any country doesn't care about SpaceX sending people to mars. They make a lot of money from internet services and they aren't going to hand it over to outsiders without a very strong reason to do so. $\endgroup$ – Adwiv Jun 19 at 20:59
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In order to transmit from a country, one must have a license to do so, with the exception of some spaces without specific owners, like WiFi's 2.4 GHz that allows small narrow transition can work. It is common to have to pay for the bandwidth for each country. Some countries are pickier than others.

All that being said, it is perfectly normal and reasonable for India to request a license fee for the use of the bandwidth in their country. If SpaceX doesn't secure that, they can't install a ground station nor sell their service in the country. The law for small satellite providers is a tricky patchwork of each country needing licenses to transmit. I couldn't begin to tell you how the license process will go for India, but I can tell you they are certainly allowed to request this fee and other restrictions.

Of some note is they can't really regulate the satellite transmitting over their country, only the people on the ground transmitting to it. If a satellite happened to be over India, or any country, a person on the ocean in international waters could transmit to said satellite with no legal problems, assuming they were on a ship with a country registered to communicate with it, and the satellite could connect to a ground station outside of the country where it could connect to the internet.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 It is important to note that satellite phones are illegal in India too. There is no way StarLink will be allowed to operate in India unless it registers as an ISP and satifies all the requirements including paying licensing fees and routing traffic from India based datacenters. $\endgroup$ – Adwiv Jun 19 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Adwiv: Not all satellite phones (Inmarsat phones are allowed, although all others are banned). $\endgroup$ – Sean Jun 19 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ SpaceX wants to sell ground terminals for Starlink to indian customers and receive monthly fees payments for internet access. Without government license that would be at least difficult if not impossible. Starlink could not be operated without payments. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jun 20 at 10:35
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The answer is No, largely based on the fact that India is a signatory to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. If you pick a country that didn’t sign any of the patchwork of treaties covering space, it could be a slightly different answer. Still, a government can ask, but they might never get paid. But, to India:

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https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1084&context=spacelaw

Now that only applies to the satellite network flying over India. If any Indian citizen buys a ground station, the Indian government can tax them based on the fact the it is operating inside sovereign airspace, which generally extends to approximately 60,000 feet (varies by country).

If SpaceX wants to build a command and control facility in India, same deal.

But if there are no ground components on the ground in India, and the satellites are doing their business overhead, India has no right to ask SpaceX for money. .

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    $\begingroup$ You are correct that they can't regulate the satellite transmitting over the country, they can, however, regulate people on the ground transmitting to the satellite. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Jun 19 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ They can also regulate people on the ground who buy or sell subscriptions to use the satellite (or many satellites), sell, import, or possess equipment used to communicate with the satellite, or advertise the service. $\endgroup$ – Zach Lipton Jun 20 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ "But if there are no ground components on the ground in India, and the satellites are doing their business overhead, India has no right to ask SpaceX for money." If there are users in India accessing Starlink via ground terminals, there are ground components on the ground in India. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jun 20 at 14:31
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One aspect only of the wider issues:

The Indian government has complete 'legal' control of what service users transmit*. Receive only internet just maybe would be able to avoid government involvement. As soon as you wish to transmit to a Starlink satellite the government can impose whatever terms it wishes.
As almost all internet services involve two way signalling Starlink must come to a mutually satisfactory agreement with the Indian government.


  • Any visitor to India who has obtained cellphone service in India will have encountered what is involved. This notionally takes a week + from application. In practice locals have worked out systems to bypass the system. Doing so seems to usually be risk free in practice, but there are no guarantees. As a vis\rot one really doesn't annoy the government.
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