Nigeria is experiencing a revolution in its internet connectivity landscape with the introduction of Starlink, a satellite-based internet service provider (ISP) from SpaceX. The introduction of Starlink is seen as a significant milestone in Nigeria’s quest to become a globally competitive digital economy. With Starlink, Nigerians now have access to secure, fast, and reliable internet connectivity that was previously unavailable. Starlink, an internet service provider introduced by Elon Musk, is said to offer fast internet connection up to 100Mbps, with latency as low as 20 milliseconds. This far exceeds the speeds offered by traditional terrestrial internet service providers, making it a potential game-changer for the Nigerian internet landscape. It also offers a more reliable connection than most terrestrial networks, with uptime of 99.99%. Starlink is also proving to be a cost-effective alternative to traditional internet service providers. It is estimated that the cost of Starlink’s service is less than half that of traditional ISPs, making it an attractive option for consumers.
1.1 What is Starlink?
Starlink, a satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX, is an internet service provider (ISP) that provides high speed, low latency broad band internet across the globe.
Technically a division within SpaceX, Starlink is also the name of the spaceflight company’s growing network of orbital satellites or “constellation.” The development of that network began in 2015, with the prototype satellites launched into orbit in 2018 by Elon Musk. In the years since, SpaceX has deployed thousands of Starlink satellites into the constellation across dozens of successful launches, the most recent of which took place on Feb. 17 and delivered another 51 satellites into Low-Earth orbit. That brings the total number of satellites in orbit to just under 4,000.
1.2 What Is an Internet Service Provider (ISP)?
The term “Internet Service Provider (ISP)” refers to a company that provides access to the internet to both personal and business customers. ISPs make it possible for their customers to surf the web, shop online, conduct business, and connect with family and friends—all for a fee. ISPs may also provide other services, including email services, domain registration, web hosting, and browser packages. An ISP may also be referred to as an information service provider, a storage service provider, an internet network service provider (INSP), or any combination of these three based on the services offered by the company.
2.0 Is Star Link licensed to operate in Nigeria?
The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) has approved the operation of Star Link in Nigeria. The company received two licenses, the International Gateway license and the Internet service provider (ISP) license, and will be trading as Starlink Internet Services Nigeria Ltd.
According to NCC, the International Gateway license has a 10-year tenure, while the ISP license lasts five (5) years. Both licenses took effect in May, 2022 and may be renewed after the expiration.
2.1 Legal Framework for the operation of licensing practice in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, is the threshold legislation guiding and regulation telecommunications in Nigeria. The Nigerian Communications Act creates and provides a regulatory framework for the Nigerian communications industry. The Act establishes the Nigerian Communications Commission as a body corporate with the responsibility for the regulation of the communications sector in Nigeria. With a plethora of functions, the Commission undertakes the licensing of all operators in the communications sector. Chapter IV of the Act make diverse provisions on licenses. Therefore, Nigeria, like most developing economies, seems to only recognize the individual operator license and the general authorization otherwise known as Class Licenses. Section 32 of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003 gives credence to this statement as it provides thus:
“The Commission shall issue communications licenses for the operation and provision of communications services or facilities by way of class or individual licenses on such terms and conditions as the Commission may from time to time determine taking into consideration the objectives of this Act and the provisions of section 33(3) of this Act”.
On the other hand, in an Individual License, the terms, conditions, obligations, scope and limitations of the authorization are specific to the service being provided. The licensing form could be in the form of Auction, “First Come, First Served”, “Beauty Contest” or through standard administrative procedure or as stipulated by the regulator. For a Class License, being a type of general authorization, the terms and conditions/obligations are common to all license holders. It requires only registration with the Commission for applicants to commence operation.
In furtherance, section 31 of the NCC Act makes licenses a mandatory requirement for operating a communications system or facility and proving a communications service in Nigeria. Failure to obtain authorization under a communications license or seeking exemption under regulations made by the Commission under the Act is an offence and attracts penalties. Upon conviction a defaulter may be liable for:
(a) a fine not less than the initial fee for the relevant license;
(b) a fine not exceeding 10 (ten) times the initial fee for the relevant license;
(c) imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 (one) year; or
(d) both such fine and imprisonment.
Section 32 of the NCC Act (2003) makes provision for classes of licenses with the class licenses and individual licenses available for operators. The Commission is directed issue communications licenses for the operation and provision of communications services or facilities on such terms and conditions as it may stipulate in meeting with the objectives of the Act, 2003 directs the commission to be guided by certain principles in the formulation of licensing procedures, insurance of communications licenses and preparation of license conditions and terms.
These principles include:
(a) transparency, fairness and non-discrimination;
(b) efficient use and management of radio frequencies
(c) available numbers under the National Numbering Plan;
(d) the need to promote fair competition and investment in the communications’ industry;
(e) the need to provide modern, qualitative, affordable and readily available communications services in all parts of Nigeria; and
(f) such other principles and considerations as the Commission may from time to time consider necessary and in the national interest.
By the NCC Act, the grant of a license shall be personal to the licensee and the license shall not be operated by, assigned, sub-licensed or transferred to any other party unless the prior written approval of the Commission has been granted. A licensee must also at all times comply with the terms and conditions of his license as well as the provisions of the Act and all other subsidiary legislation. Therefore, the licensing of Starlink by NCC as an Internet Service Provider in Nigeria can be categorized to under Individual License provided respectively according to s. 32 of the Nigeria Communications Act, 2003.
3.0. Impact of Star link Internet Service Provider on Nigeria Economy
3.1 Access to fast and reliable internet connectivity:
The arrival of Starlink is expected to have a transformative effect on the Nigerian internet landscape as the Internet Service Provider offers speeds of up to 100Mbps, with latency as low as 20 milliseconds. This far exceeds the speeds offered by traditional terrestrial Internet Service Providers, making it a potential game-changer for the Nigerian internet landscape. It offers a more reliable connection than most terrestrial networks, with uptime of 99.99%. Therefore, the impact of Starlink opens up new opportunities for digital marketing, e-commerce, and remote work that were not possible before. It also provides a reliable and fast internet connection, which is particularly beneficial for businesses that require a large amount of data or need to connect to remote servers. This could include businesses such as software development, data analysis, or video streaming services. With Starlink, Nigerian businesses can access the internet without fear of interruption or slow speeds.
3.2 Impact on Startup business & creation of job opportunities:
The introduction of Starlink is expected to have a positive impact on Nigeria’s economy. It is estimated that it could create up to 20,000 new jobs and boost Nigeria’s GDP by as much as $6 billion over the next decade. Starlink’s entrance into Nigeria would also create more job opportunities for youths in both urban and rural areas. Fast and affordable internet will enable Nigerian youths to remotely work for startups all around the globe.
3.3 Impact of Star link on Nigerian Education:
The impact of Star link on Nigerian education can be seen in a variety of ways. Most importantly, it has provided access to online educational content to students in remote and underserved areas. Before Star link, many students in rural areas were unable to access the same learning materials as their urban counterparts. Now, with Star link, these students can easily access educational materials from any location. Furthermore,
Starlink has enabled Nigerian students to take advantage of a range of online learning opportunities. From online courses to virtual tutoring, students can now access a variety of educational materials from the comfort of their homes. This is especially beneficial for students in remote areas who may not have access to traditional educational institutions. It has also enabled Nigerian students to collaborate more effectively with their peers. Through the use of online communication tools, students can now engage with one another in ways that were previously impossible. This has allowed them to create a learning community and exchange ideas more easily.
3.4 It promotes competitiveness:
One impact of Starlink is that it promotes more competitiveness in the Nigerian Telecommunications industry with other Internet Service Providers leveraging their potentials in meeting up to the standard of Starlink. Therefore, both the Telcos/MNOs and the ISPs are now boosting their competency through various marketing strategies in order not to lose customers to other preferable internet providers such as Starlink, Spectranet and the likes.
3.5 It provides help for environmental monitoring:
The Starlink network, which is made up of thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth, has the potential to become a powerful tool for collecting and disseminating data about the environment. For example, the satellites can be used to monitor changes in the Earth’s atmosphere, including the concentrations of greenhouse gases, and to track changes in land cover, such as deforestation and urbanization. The data collected by the satellites could be used to inform decisions about climate change mitigation, land management, and other environmental issues.
In addition, the Starlink network could provide an unprecedented level of detail about the environment in remote areas, helping to better understand the effects of climate change and human activities on ecosystems. The potential benefits of the Starlink network for environmental monitoring extend beyond the traditional realms of science to include applications for businesses and governments. For example, the data collected by the satellites could be used to monitor the health of ecosystems and to inform decisions about conservation and land use. The Starlink network could also provide more accurate and timely data about weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts. This could be used to develop better preparedness and response plans. The possibilities of the Starlink network for environmental monitoring are far-reaching and exciting. As the network continues to develop and expand, the potential uses of the data collected by the satellites will become more apparent. It is an exciting time for the field of environmental monitoring and the possibilities of Starlink’s satellite network.
3.6 Star link’s Satellites are designed to reduce light pollution:
Light pollution is a growing problem throughout the world, with one-third of the world’s population having no access to dark skies. It is caused by the bright artificial lights that are used to illuminate cities and towns. These lights can interfere with astronomy research, disrupt the sleep cycles of wildlife, and make it difficult for people to sleep at night. Star link’s satellites are designed to reduce light pollution by using technology known as “dark sky friendly” LED lights. These LEDs emit a dim light, making them difficult to see from the ground. The satellites also have reflective panels that help block the light from reaching the ground, further reducing light pollution.
4.0 Foreseeable Risks and Challenges of Star link in Nigeria
4.1. Concerns over affordability:
Starlink’s current price, which it reviewed in March this year, stands at $$110 per month, up from the original rate of $99 for base plan. Additionally, the one-time hardware installation fee for Star link’s receiver dish is now $599, up from $499. The premium plan costs $2500 for installation and $500 for monthly subscriptions. Compared to the monthly living wage of average Nigerians which is $111 for individuals and $354 for families, this might be a little bit high. To make the broadband accessible to these underserved areas, Star link might have to use a different pricing strategy like DSTV subsidized GOTV and Netflix offered lower prices to penetrate the Nigerian market. If not, Nigerians might not be able to afford it.
4.2 Starlink also poses some risks to the environment:
The network relies on thousands of small satellites to provide coverage, and each of these satellites requires a significant amount of energy to operate. Additionally, the satellites can create light pollution, which can interfere with efforts to observe and study the night sky. In response to these concerns, SpaceX has taken steps to reduce the environmental impact of Star link. The company has pledged to reduce the amount of energy used by its satellites, and has also promised to use only non-toxic propellants when launching new satellites. Additionally, Space X has promised to limit the amount of light pollution created by the satellites.
5.0 Highlights of Intellectual Property framework for Starlink Internet Service Provider
Generally, Intellectual Property is that area of law that concerns itself with the legal right associated with the creative effort or commercial reputation and good will. It is that area of law that detaches others from copying or taking unfair advantage of other peoples work. Therefore, intellectual property in Starlink seeks to protect the invention under trade mark, patent and design act in order to exclude others from taking unfair advantage of the internet service provider. Starlink was able to obtain a provisional permission from the country’s Department of Information and Communication Technologies (DICT), National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and soon began commercial services, aimed at regions with lower internet connectivity. STARLINK was also able to register under the Trademark Act with registration number 6329104 – serial number 87576974. Also, in order to avoid any risk of confusion or passing off from any other companies, the SpaceX and Starlink name, logo or other trademarks (such as Falcon, Dragon, and Hyperloop) are not allowed to be used to endorse any product, entity or idea without SpaceX and Starlink express written permission, unless otherwise allowed under current trademark law, (e.g., the fair use doctrine).
In respect to the intellectual property right of Starlink, SpaceX and its employees do not accept or consider unsolicited materials or ideas, including ideas for new or improved technologies, processes, services, materials, promotions, or marketing plans. This policy exists to avoid any misunderstandings or disputes if a company ideas are similar to those SpaceX has developed or is developing independently. Unless SpaceX has a prior agreement with such company. Thus, no individual or company are permitted to submit unsolicited materials, ideas, concepts, suggestions or other works in any form to SpaceX. Although despite this policy, an individual or company that submit anything, and regardless of what such individual or company state in the submission, it is deemed as an implied agreement that such person or company consent that:
(1) SpaceX will consider the submission to be non-confidential and nonproprietary;
(2) SpaceX has no obligation to review the submission; and
(3) SpaceX is free to use any such submission or content for any purposes whatsoever, including, without limitation, developing and marketing products and services, without any liability or payment of any kind to you. SpaceX takes no responsibility for any unsolicited materials or ideas transmitted to us.
In conclusion, Starlink a satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX, provides satellite internet access coverage to 32 countries. The download speed of Starlink which is at 100 Mbps is nearly five times higher than the highest median speed for Nigeria. Nigeria gave Starlink two licenses that took effect on May 1 and will expire in 2027 and 2032. The service is expected to go live sometime between July and September this year. The Internet service provider will solve the problem of speed and access, especially in rural areas. According to its website, “Starlink is ideally suited for areas where connectivity has been unreliable or completely unavailable.
- See Section 31 of the NCC Act, 2003
- Nigerian Communications Commission, Licensing Application Process, https://www.ncc.gov.ng/licensingregulatory/licensing/licensing-proceduresclass-license Accessed on 1 July, 2019.
- Nigerian Communications Commission, Licensing Application Process, https://www.ncc.gov.ng/licensingregulatory/licensing/licensing-procedures#class-license Accessed on 1 July, 2019.