Starlink is at a crossroads in war-torn Sudan

Responding to SpaceX's plans to limit service in countries operating without a license, humanitarian organizations stress the need for continuous access to internet connectivity

Starlink is at a crossroads in war-torn Sudan
Threats to disconnect come from two sides

Amidst ongoing turmoil in one of Africa's poorest economies, the availability of Elon Musk's satellite internet connectivity service is nearly at a breaking point. Sudan's struggle for social stability has been compounded by its toil to stay connected.

As the northeastern African country's warring factions target telecommunications infrastructure and impose bureaucratic limitations to cause unrest, citizens who have already been isolated face even more challenges accessing essential services and interacting with the outside world. 

The crisis, exacerbated by renewed conflicts since May 2023, underscores the importance of reliable communication networks, especially when it comes to facilitating humanitarian efforts. With swathes finding it hard to use traditional networks, satellite-based connectivity turned into a rooftop lifeline

Starlink, provided by SpaceX, has played a pivotal role as a wartime infrastructure, helping bridge the communications gap left by telcos severely affected by the connectivity shortfall. But, as tensions escalate with no respite in sight, the factions at odds with each other have gone from disrupting legacy networks to targeting Starlink. 

The Sudan Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces have reportedly started threatening to tamper with Starlink's operations in the country and sever connections for not just millions of Sudanese but also the humanitarian organizations bringing forms of aid to displaced people in the region. 

What's worse, the service has notified its customers across the world regarding its plans to [temporarily] wind down roaming in markets where it is operating without due licensing. Sudan happens to be one of such countries. Meanwhile, local telcos have had little success trying to get users back online.

Aid bodies and volunteer groups, including Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council are urging Elon Musk to do what it takes to keep Starlink active in the country. Using an open letter, they emphasize the essence of internet access in conflict zones when it comes to saving lives.

"In areas where formal telecommunication is barely functioning, both civilians and local responders, such as Emergency Response Rooms (ERRs), often connect through informal Starlink internet cafes," a part of the open letter reads. 

When available, internet access has been instrumental in assisting civilians share and receive critical and often lifesaving information, including about safe areas and routes. The potential shutdown of Starlink would disproportionately affect civilians and the aid organizations trying to reach them,” they indicate. 

In addition to hampering humanitarian operations, disrupting telecom services constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights. Essential materials cannot reach vulnerable people, hence intensifying crises. 

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