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Regulator defends Starlink users

Tuesday 9 April 2024 | Written by RNZ | Published in National, Regional, Technology, Vanuatu

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Regulator defends Starlink users
Bernard Hill, the chair of the Cook Islands Competition and Regulatory Authority. 21042024

Cook Islands telecommunications regulator head Bernard Hill said regional regulators who are banning the use of Starlink might have an “overinflated view” of their importance.

His comments come after reports in Vanuatu that border worker there are confiscating equipment. Starlink is not allowed to operate inside Vanuatu without a proper licence.

Speaking to RNZ Pacific, Hill, who is the chair of the Competition and Regulatory Authority, said in deregulated markets like Cook Islands and New Zealand, “the rule is we let you do it until there’s a good reason to say no”.

“They (Starlink) approached me about a licence 18 months ago, they still haven’t resolved on their local structure but unlike the other regulators, I have authorised the roaming of devices purchased in New Zealand and Australia.”

Hill said he wasn’t sure of the exact number of Starlink users, but their presence has already had a competitive impact on Vodafone Cook Islands, the nation’s biggest broadband provider.

“I can’t say Vodafone is happy about it but they are at least realistic about this being part of the future competitive environment and I believe they’re doing the best to cope with the challenge that presents them.”

Cook Islands News has contacted Vodafone Cook Islands for comments. The newspaper has asked about the impact of Starlink on Vodafone’s business.

Earlier this year, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said his government will not restrict the use of Starlink in the country, despite the internet provider not yet establishing a local presence or offering a dedicated service plan.

Brown said Starlink was a good example of a market disruptor, and the onus was on the other local providers to bring their service up to par.

“We are kind of this small number that is hooking up to their satellite system but Starlink is a good example of a disruptor in the economy in this particular sector. They are able to provide a service that’s competitive, that’s convenient and that’s easy and better than what local providers can provide at the moment so I’m not looking at anyway to try and stop people from hooking up to Starlink,” said Brown, who is also the Minister for Telecommunications.

Starlink, owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk, promises to deliver high-speed internet to the remotest regions by using thousands of satellites orbiting close to the planet.

Hill said Starlink and other low earth orbit satellite companies should be a good fit for the Cook Islands Pa Enua (outer islands) that struggle with poor communications infrastructure.

Hill said he does not think Starlink and similar companies will make other forms of receiving internet irrelevant.

He said countries need back up options in case something goes wrong - like the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Haa’pai volcano eruption that destroyed Tonga’s internet cable.

Hill said as more Pacific economies rely on internet services being cut off could be disastrous.

“From the point of view of redundancy and resilience having access to services from overhead as well as undersea is pretty important.”

  • Caleb Fotheringham, RNZ Pacific Journalist/CINews