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Starlink’s Sanjay Bhargava steps down as country head days after it announced refunds on pre-orders

All may not be well at Starlink which first showed interest in delivering satellite-based broadband to rural parts of India last year.

Starlink’s India head Sanjay Bhargava has resigned as its Country Director and Chairman, dealing yet another blow to the SpaceX subsidiary’s plans in the country. Bhargava did not provide a specific explanation for his resignation but cited “personal reasons” as the cause in his LinkedIn post.

Bhargava informed his followers that his last working day was December 31, 2021, and urged everyone to respect his privacy as he had no comments to share with anyone including the media.

The resignation comes on the heels of Starlink refunding more than 5,000 pre-order fees from Indian customers, suggesting that the company’s run-ins with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) might have some role to play in his stepping down.

Why did Starlink issue refunds on its pre-orders?

In emails sent out to users, the company informed that it has been directed by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to refund pre-orders until it receives a licence.

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The emails also highlighted the fact that the timeline for receiving licences to operate in India was “currently unknown” and that there were “several issues” that must be resolved within the licensing framework to allow Starlink to operate in India.

The company had started taking pre-orders in November last year, accepting a refundable $99 deposit.

What is Starlink? Starlink is the satellite internet division of SpaceX which is owned by Elon Musk. It leverages small satellites, launched into space to form a low-Earth orbiting (LEO) network, which provides low-latency broadband internet services around the world, focusing on remote areas that are difficult to reach via land.

Will these developments favour Starlink’s competitors?

There is considerable interest in providing broadband internet through satellites as is evident from Tata-owned Nelco in partnership with Canadian firm Telesat, applying for an experimental licence and spectrum.

There are also other private players such as Amazon’s Project Kuiper, and Bharti’s OneWeb. Bharti-backed OneWeb and satellite company Hughes have been eyeing the Indian market for some time now. OneWeb applied for two permits, a National Long Distance (NLD) license and a Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite (GMPCS) licence. Bharti Chairman Sunil Mittal claimed that the company will be service-ready by 2022, in a press conference.

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I cover several beats such as crypto, telecom, and OTT at MediaNama. I will be loitering at my local theatre and consuming movies by the dozen when I am off work.

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