Starlink's early arrival in Ghana stirs controversy

Starlink operations in Ghana have been declared illegal by the National Communications Authority, Ghana's telco regulator.

Starlink's early arrival in Ghana stirs controversy
Affordability, licensing troubles, and exploitation trail the service's entry into the West African market

Starlink, Elon Musk’s internet service, is not officially launching in Ghana until the third quarter of 2024. But, thanks to its ubiquity, satellite connectivity is available in the West African country, and its use has created a cloud of contention. 

In a circular released yesterday, Ghana’s telecoms watchdog, the National Communications Authority (NCA), informed the public that Starlink-type equipment is yet to be formally approved. NCA also spelt out that the service has yet to receive a local operating license. 

The regulator’s attention has been drawn to the sale of Starlink kits by middlemen. It pointed out that the provision of internet services without its authorization directly contravenes its Electronic Communications Act. 

The NCA cautioned the general public to “desist from patronizing any equipment or service purported to be from Starlink”. “Persons operating in the sale or operations of the service are also directed to cease and desist immediately,” the statement read. 

The NCA’s move might be connected to recent social media reports about local vendors importing the equipment, and selling them at exorbitant prices. 

In an X post about Starlink prices two days ago, CediRates, a platform that keeps track of currency exchange rates and the costs of common services in Ghana, alleged that middlemen charge residential customers 7,800 cedis ($650) and businesses 30,000 cedis ($2,500). 

Per CediRates, a monthly subscription for the service costs 1,100-1,500 cedis ($91-$124) for residential subscribers, and 3,000-18,000 cedis ($250-$1500) for commercial customers. 

Meanwhile, per Starlink’s official website, the no-cap service, subject to regulatory approval, can only be pre-ordered from Ghana at $9. Typically, a standard plan costs $689, including a monthly subscription of $90. 

It is unclear how Starlink kits are making it to Ghana. But, from what’s evident in other parts of the continent where the platform has come under similar regulatory pressure, the equipment is likely being imported from next-door markets where the service is legal. 

In January 2023, Starlink went live in Nigeria, Ghana’s closest neighbour, after being approved by the country’s telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). The launch made Nigeria the first country in Africa to receive the service. 

Down south, third parties sourced kits from neighbouring Mozambique where it is legal, and resold them to South African customers. However, the practice has since been illegalised by authorities, and the equipment is reportedly being type-approved given an official launch. 

In Ghana, where reliable and affordable internet connectivity is still a challenge in many areas, Starlink’s satellite internet service has been met with both excitement and scepticism. 

While it is a better alternative in terms of speed and wider coverage, it is substantially costlier than those offered by traditional internet services offered by local mobile network providers 

Moreover, a rising count of mobile subscribers complain that the prices of data plans have been on the increase. Last month, Sancom Plc (MTN Ghana) upped its voice and data prices by 15%, for both prepaid and postpaid customers, citing an increase in operation costs. 

Though Ghana used to have one of the cheapest internet plans in Sub-Saharan Africa, recent reports suggest that is now a thing of the past. In a Surfshark report released in September, internet affordability has decreased in the past year, as people work more to buy the same data plans. 

The report also states Ghana has the slowest mobile internet in Africa, ranking 88th out of 177 indexed global countries. 

This is a developing story 

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