Tonga government evaluating Starlink licence application

Tonga government evaluating Starlink licence application

The government of Tonga is reportedly deliberating whether or not to grant an operator licence to SpaceX’s LEO satellite operator Starlink, which a number of people in the country are already using, albeit not legally.

According to Matangi Tonga Online, Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said the government has received Starlink’s application and is taking it into consideration.

Among other things, Sovaleni said, the government has to evaluate the impact of Starlink on existing network operators.

That said, another issue is that some people who live in areas of Tonga with poor or no internet coverage are using Starlink services anyway by purchasing Starlink subscriptions in other countries and using its roaming feature to access the service in Tonga.

Sovaleni warned that until Starlink receives a licence to operate in Tonga, importing Starlink terminal kits for use in Tonga is illegal, the report said.

Tonga’s internet services have been criticised for being expensive and slow. According to the Broadband Speedchecker website, the average downlink speed in Tonga is 3.5 Mbps, with Digicel Tonga at the top range with 8.59 Mbps. Datareportal says that Tonga’s internet penetration rate was just over 71% at the start of 2023.

The island’s vulnerability to internet disruptions was graphically illustrated in January 2022, when the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano damaged the only subsea fibre cable connecting Tonga to the global internet.

Ironically, Starlink was one of several telecoms companies who came to Tonga’s rescue after the eruption, setting up a gateway station in Fiji and sending Starlink terminals to Tonga.

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