All Starlink Equipment To Be Returned if TRBR Denies Licence after SOE

By Doddy Morris.

The office of the Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator (TRBR) has confirmed that all licensed Starlink equipment must be returned to Starlink once the State Of Emergency (SOE) period lapses.

Under the SOE, following the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclones (TCs) Judy and Kevin, the Office of the TRBR received Order No. 33 of 2023, which aims to expedite the emergency response.

The order stipulates that any potential alternative operation utilising new technology solutions, including satellite services, must be licensed by the TRBR before their utilisation. However, it does not specifically mention any particular technology or company.

Considering Vanuatu’s recovery as a priority, the TRBR then granted an Exception to Starlink for a period of six months.

The Exception is strictly for government agencies’ use of the terminals. Installations were to be coordinated through the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) provided by Starlink and type approved by TRBR, to facilitate the emergency response and delivery of relief supplies during the SOE.

The coordination and approval of equipment usage and deployment are based on the NDMO’s recovery plans.

According to a source, the Prime Minister’s office purchased 30 Starlink equipment during this time for use during the SOE, alongside the NDMO. Starlink has been established in five Provincial Emergency Operation Centres (PEOC), according to a source from the NDMO headquarters.

However, reports suggest that some government officials are using the Starlink equipment supplied for emergency usage in their private homes, rather than in the workplace. The Daily Post was unable to confirm these rumors from the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) due to the responsible person’s absence.

If Starlink complies with all applicable regulations determined by the Department of Customs and Inland Revenue (DCIR) and the Vanuatu Foreign Investment Promotion Authority (VFIPA), consumers will be able to continue utilising Starlink’s services beyond the SOE. Fulfilling these legal formalities will lead to the TRBR issuing a licence permitting Starlink’s operations in Vanuatu.

In order to be granted a broadcasting licence by the TRBR, Starlink must establish a physical presence in Vanuatu, including an office. This requirement is based on Vanuatu being a sovereign country with its own laws, such as the Vanuatu Financial Services Commission (VFSC) regulations. Physical presence enables various benefits such as paying taxes to the government, providing consumer protection with an office for assistance, and employing local staff. Additionally, Vanuatu’s cash economy allows rural individuals without visa cards to pay for Starlink services directly in cash at the Vanuatu office.

The slow process for Starlink to obtain a licence from the TRBR is believed to be due to the issue of office establishment. Despite operating as a Business to Customer model, where products and services are sold directly to end-users, some consumers in Vanuatu purchase Starlink equipment by ordering it from Australia, even though Starlink has no physical presence there. The equipment is then brought to Vanuatu by plane.

To prevent the dissemination of false information on social media, the TRBR emphasises that the Exception granted to Starlink does not permit the company to provide its services to the public. It also reminds everyone of the importance of adhering to Vanuatu’s legislation, including the TRBR Act, as violations can have severe consequences.