Starlink isn’t a charity, but the Ukraine war isn’t a business opportunity • TechCrunch

What emerged earlier in the year was a selfless act of technocracy, the widespread deployment of Starlink terminals in Ukraine, which went awry as SpaceX and governments disagreed on the eventual Who will be the executor of this unprecedented aid campaign bill. Some expect Elon Musk – one of the richest men in the world – to cough, while others say the world’s richest military should too. Both claims have merit, but this financial cockfight will cost Ukrainian lives.

The effort began in late February, just days after Russia invaded Ukraine. Musk said Starlink terminals were “on the way” but provided few details. Many take this minimal, rather promotional approach to understand what it clearly implies: that SpaceX is providing the terminals themselves, for free or with some understanding of their purchase.

The latter proved true when the United States Agency for International Development paid a number of Polish and other European governments, and various militaries and NGOs contributed to the expenditure. shipping, installation, and seemingly monthly fees. fee for the service itself. USAID describes “a wide range of stakeholders” providing the first wave of assistance totaling about $15 million at the time.

But the cost is not a one-time thing. Musk recently tweeted that 25,000 terminals have been deployed in Ukraine, 5 times the initial shipment – thousands were destroyed in the fighting and many more are needed. Connectivity costs $4,500 per month, supposedly, for the highest level of service. Going by the estimate recorded by CNNie ongoing costs up to about $75 million per month.

Some have questioned the wisdom of relying on this new and unproven technology in the battlefield, but reports from the country’s military show it to be very useful. In fact, the ability was accepted in the spirit it was given, and used to its fullest potential, but the length and scale of the war caused the situation around Starlink to evolve beyond that. beyond its original range.

It is true that SpaceX cannot be fully responsible for tens of millions of dollars in costs, free services, or lost income (however the amount must be determined). But playing the victim is no good either: they open their eyes to provide an essential and expensive service in a war-torn country that seems to have no real plan to cover it. cost.

On the other hand, governments have also stepped in. They can’t expect SpaceX to cover the hardware and software costs themselves, or if it does, they should get it in writing. But having funded part of it, does that mean they’re ready for all?

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military has trusted this service, and it is correct to say that whatever happens, whoever has to write the IOU to whom, the terminals must stay – or the soldiers. their country’s defense will be threatened directly and immediately.

This 3-way deadlock has no easy solution, so let’s start with what we know demand will happen: The Starlink connection must continue in Ukraine at nominal cost to them, not forever but indefinitely. Any other outcome was too pathetic for all involved.

So the Internet still works. Who pays for it? If SpaceX wants anyone to take its claim seriously, then SpaceX needs to play ball, and that means being transparent about the actual costs and payments involved. It goes without saying that Musk must put an end to his infuriating and narcissistic antics – too much is at stake for him because of his usual egotism.

Taxpayers in dozens of countries have already paid for it and will most likely continue for months, if not years. What are the actual costs involved? $4,500 per terminal for access seems excessive – that’s retail price for early adopters, not a hefty price for government partners in a frugal run. The Pentagon may not be a frugal model, but full pricing in this situation is invisible. (Not to mention this is probably the best PR the company can get while trying to drive demand for its real consumer service. Money can’t buy this kind of exposure.)

Governments also need to pick a number and be sure of what can and cannot be provided as part of the aid package. Ukrainian officials would certainly like it if every available Starlink terminal was shipped to the country by the next day, but that is unlikely, other forms of aid that would not be helpful would not be possible. available, such as some military assets that are too expensive or difficult to spare.

The cost of supporting Ukraine’s defense is huge, and the United States is spending billions of dollars on that goal. How much of that money will be spent on the Starlink connection? Pick a number and start negotiating. Is it 10 million dollars per month? 20 million dollars? What do those costs depend on, and how will they be tracked?

SpaceX can take that money and provide the agreed level of service and hardware. While everyone appreciates the swift movement this February, a few rushed phone calls and “we can make it happen” conversations do not constitute a long-term plan. to cover deployment costs have grown to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and many Ukrainian lives.

Like any compromise, it’ll make everyone a little bit unhappy – but it won’t cause anyone to lose connections, glitches, or die. This complex and awkward situation is the result of inadequate preparation and communication by a constantly changing stakeholder group. What is needed from SpaceX and its government partners is not pointing but transparency and commitment.


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