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

What appeared to be an act of altruistic techno-utopianism earlier this year for the widespread deployment of Starlink terminals in Ukraine has come as SpaceX and governments are at odds over who should ultimately pay for the unprecedented aid campaign. The situation has worsened. Some expect Elon Musk – one of the world’s richest men – to cough, while others think the world’s richest military should do the same. Elon Musk Now Says Starlink Will Continue Free Internet for Ukraine .

renew: Musk tweeted that Starlink will “continue to fund the Ukrainian government for free,” at least for now, albeit at a loss. This guarantees current service, but is obviously not a long-term solution:

The effort began in late February, just days after Russia invaded Ukraine. Musk said the Starlink terminal was “in development,” but offered few details. Many have taken this minimal, rather promotional, way of expressing what it clearly implies: SpaceX provides the terminal itself, either for free or with knowledge of the purchase.

As it turns out, USAID paid some, Polish and other European governments paid more, and various militaries and NGOs paid for shipping, installation, and apparently monthly fees. The cost of the service itself. USAID described “a range of stakeholders” that provided the first wave of support totaling about $15 million at the time.

But the cost is not a one-off. Musk recently tweeted that Ukraine has deployed 25,000 terminals, five times the number originally shipped — thousands more were destroyed in battle, and more are needed. The connection fee for the highest service tier is said to be $4,500 per month. Ongoing costs total about $75 million per month, according to CNN estimates.

Some have understandably questioned the wisdom of relying on this unproven new technology on the battlefield, but reports from the country’s military suggest it has been very helpful. In fact, this ability was accepted in the spirit of being offered and utilized to the fullest, but the duration and scale of the war has caused the situation around Starlink to go beyond its original scope.

Granted, SpaceX cannot be solely responsible for tens of millions of dollars in costs, free services, or lost revenue (but that money should be defined). But there’s no benefit to playing the victims either: they’re eyes wide open for an expensive and essential service in a war-torn country, with apparently no real plan to cover the cost.

On the other hand, the government is also involved. They can’t possibly expect SpaceX to pay for the hardware and software themselves, or if they do, they should get it in writing. But part of it has been funded, does that mean they take all the blame?

At the same time, the Ukrainian military has come to rely on the service, and rightly the terminal must remain running no matter what happens and whoever has to write IOUs to whom – otherwise the soldiers defending the country will be in immediate and immediate danger .

There’s no easy solution to this three-way standoff, so let’s start with what we know need Happened: Starlink connections must continue at nominal cost in Ukraine, not forever, but indefinitely. Any other outcome would be disastrous for everyone involved.

So the Internet lives on. Who pays for it? If SpaceX wants anyone to take its request seriously, it needs to play a role, which means being transparent about the actual costs and payments involved. Needless to say, Musk must stop his vexatious, narcissistic antics—he indulges in his usual egotism, and that matters a lot.

Taxpayers in more than a dozen countries have already paid the price, and it’s likely to continue for months, if not years. What are the actual costs involved? An access fee of $4,500 per terminal may seem prohibitive, on the one hand—it’s the retail price for early adopters, not the volume price for government partners in life-saving operations. The Pentagon may not be a model of frugality, but charging full price in this case is out of place. (Not to mention that it’s probably the best PR the company can get in an effort to increase demand for its real consumer service. Money can’t buy that kind of exposure.)

The government will also need to pick a number and be firm on what can and cannot be offered as part of an aid package. Ukrainian officials would no doubt love it if every available Starlink terminal was shipped to Ukraine the next day, but that’s not possible, and other forms of assistance, such as certain military assets that are too expensive or difficult to free up , free up.

The cost of supporting Ukraine’s defense is high, and the United States has invested billions of dollars in it. How much of that money will be dedicated to Starlink connectivity? Pick a number and start negotiating. $10 million a month? $20 million? What do these costs depend on and how are they tracked?

SpaceX can take that money and provide an agreed level of service and hardware. While everyone applauds the quick action in February, a few hasty calls and “we can do it” conversations don’t make up a long-term plan to pay for deployment costs that have grown into the hundreds of millions and millions of dollars. Ukrainian life.

Like any compromise, it will make everyone a little bit unhappy — but it won’t make anyone disconnect, pivot, or die. This complex and embarrassing situation is the result of inadequate preparation and communication from a changing stakeholder group. What SpaceX and its government partners need is not blame, but transparency and commitment.

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