Government considering issuing Starlink a licence in Tonga

Starlink dish placed on a beach in Maldives (Photo: Starlink via Twitter)

The Tonga Government is considering issuing Starlink a licence to offer broadband internet services in Tonga. 

The Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni told a media briefing last week that Starlink had applied for a licence to operate in Tonga, and they were taking it into consideration. 

Starlink is owned by the American aerospace company SpaceX and has been offering satellite broadband internet to customers globally since 2020. Customers receive internet from the satellites in space via a user dish terminal and Wi-Fi router device. The dishes are small enough to fit into a suitcase and when purchased overseas are being brought to Tonga and currently operated under “roaming” subscriptions that have no data caps. 

People in Tonga who live in areas that have poor internet coverage are using Starlink connections as a solution to run their business internet and to communicate with family and friends.  

However, the PM was not happy with people in Tonga opting for that solution. 

“It is illegal for anyone to use Starlink services in Tonga, because they are not a registered provider in Tonga,” he asserted. 

“Having said that, even if you bring a disk from Fiji or New Zealand, and use in Tonga, it is still illegal. That company is not registered in Tonga.” 

He said they also had to weigh the impacts on network operators in Tonga or, in this case, if network operators are operating in other countries but are bringing disks and running services in Tonga. 

“We look at things like that, before we consider whether to accept it or not,” he said. 

Since the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai eruption damaged the submarine fibre optic cable, communications have been a major issue in Tonga, where internet services have remained slow and expensive, with patchy coverage. 

Meanwhile, if Starlink does become registered in Tonga, users presume this would make the local Starlink service even cheaper when a local subscription is available (compared to the more expensive roaming subscriptions).