Russia may fine citizens for using SpaceX's Starlink internet. Here's how the internet service poses a threat to authoritarian regimes.
- Russian citizens and companies may get fined by the state for using SpaceX's Starlink internet.
- Analyst John Byrne told Insider it's easier for Russia to fine citizens rather than Starlink.
- "Satellite potentially turns the tables because the government doesn't control space," Byrne said.
The Russian government may fine individuals or companies for using Starlink internet developed by the US company SpaceX owned by Elon Musk, according to local reports.
The new law, proposed by Russia's legislative body the State Duma, seeks to prevent citizens accessing the internet via one of Musk's hundreds of satellites.
Ordinary users could be charged between 10,000 and 30,000 rubles ($135-$405), whereas legal entities might have to pay up to one million rubles ($6,750 to $13,500) if they use the western satellite service, according to Popular Mechanics.
In response to the local reports, Musk tweeted: "We're just trying to get people to Mars. Help would be greatly appreciated."
—Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 13, 2021
After launching a record-breaking 143 satellites into orbit on Sunday, SpaceX is slowly inching towards its goal of wrapping the Earth with up to 42,000 Starlink satellites to provide superfast internet.
So far, the space company has blasted 944 working satellites into space with the help of its Falcon 9 reusable rockets.
This takeover of the skies poses a threat to authoritarian regimes such as Russia. John Byrne, a service director specializing in telecom technology at GlobalData, told Insider it's hard for Russia to penalize the internet provider, but "it's easier to fine, or at least threaten to fine, your own citizens."
Byrne said a government is able to control the rights to operate a cellular internet service, adding that if China told its network operators to ban certain sites through this internet medium, it would be easy.
"Satellite potentially turns the tables because the government doesn't control space; as a result, the government has a much harder time regulating content over satellite," he said.
Having said this, governments do have a right to regulate vertical space, for example when planes travel in their designated airspace.
Starlink involves low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, which operate at a much lower altitude than traditional satellites but much higher than cellular service. With that in mind, the question is whether they will considered to be within the sphere of government control or not, Byrne said.
Russia has plans to develop its own satellite internet constellation called Sfera, which could be launched in 2024, IntelliNews reported in November. The project, which is expected to cost 1.5 trillion rubles (around $20 billion), would presumably allow the country to continue to monitor domestic internet traffic, Byrne said.
According to Byrne, if Russian citizens use Musk's satellite constellation, the country could be blocked from monitoring their internet traffic like it does with cellular service. He added that this could ultimately heighten tensions between the US and Russia.
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