Temporary ban on Starlink imports in Samoa

Starlink satellite

The Samoa Office of the Telecommunication Regulator (OOTR) temporarily banned the importation of Space X’s Starlink kits and Customs will seize any type of unit sighted at border control.

Regulator, Lematua Gisa Fuatai Purcell, confirmed this following a consultation held at the Development Bank of Samoa (DBS) on Wednesday. She also announced that Space X had applied for a license to operate in Samoa.

“My role as the regulator is to look at ways under the law to be able to find a solution so people can be able to use their machines which they already bought and this time, we won’t accept that anymore (buying units from overseas),” she said.

“We are currently working with Customs and if someone brings in their machines, they will be seized at the airport and brought into our office.”

The Regulator accepts the reliability and quality of the Starlink internet service but is mindful of the fair treatment of local service providers.

Lematua further clarified that the objective was to regulate the usage of these satellites which are bought overseas and imported into the country. 

She said part of the regulation was to specify the usage of the units, if they would be used for homes or businesses.

“And the question is, what will happen to the units that have already been bought from overseas? So we’re considering not banning them from using their units but instead going through the procedures,” she said.

Many have already purchased Starlink units from overseas and used them at home or their businesses before the ban, due to three facts; cost, speed, and availability.

One of the consultation participants from Aleisa Sisifo Saleimoa-Uta queried the Regulator that since there will be no freedom to buy satellites from overseas, is it possible for the Regulator to ask the available service providers including Vodafone Samoa and Digicel to provide faster internet to their village which has been facing challenges with internet speed.

“At where we’re currently at, we’ve been for years, struggling with internet connection and for years we’ve been asking these service providers however, several surveys did not come to any fruition and maybe this can be a solution to our challenge,” he said.

“We need this kind of service and we have nothing against Vodafone Samoa and Digicel who have contributed a lot already to the economy of the country.

“Does the Regulator have the power to ask these service providers, Vodafone and Digicel if they can provide a faster internet connection to reach our side because although we don’t have that many families living there, the children need it for their studies which transitioned from books and pens to screens and phones?

“And during natural disasters, there will be more people living there in the next 20 years because people are moving inland.”

Lematua highlighted that this was a very important question adding that one of the big challenges for local service providers is selecting areas to install utility poles.

“No business can set up where there are only two or three families where the profit is not sustainable,” she said.

“Yes I have the power to do that and I have also handed them programs for improvements, roll-out plans for areas where they will install their poles.

“So going forward, the regulator’s objective is to promote advanced and innovative information and telecommunication technologies for the benefit of the people of Samoa and that’s the part of the law which I value.”

Meanwhile, people who have already purchased and imported their units will need to bring them into the OOTR for a typed approval and be able to get a license to use them for their businesses which can last for 12 months.

If the Starlink unit users do not do so, they will face legal repercussions.

Asked how the units can be tracked if users refuse to bring them in, Lematua said they already have the latest technology to track down all units across the country. Currently, only schools and health centres are approved to use the Starlink services.