Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | 17:36 WIB

Safeguarding Indonesia’s sovereignty in cyberspace Between Hope and fear for Elon Musk’s Starlink


Jakarta, IO – Starlink is a project begun by exploration company SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, the world’s richest man. It aims to provide faster, more affordable, global broadband internet access via satellite networks. The Company uses thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), at about 500- 1,400 km above Earth, allowing for lower latency and higher internet speeds than conventional satellites. SpaceX has regularly launched Starlink satellites into LEO. The company plans to increase the number of its satellites to tens of thousands in the next few years, from a current 4,600. 

These satellites operate in a network to transmit internet signals from ground stations to customer terminals on Earth. They can be used to replace expensive fiber optic cables and other land infrastructure, especially for remote and challenging locations which still lack telecommunications infrastructure. 

News about Starlink expansion to Indonesia’s telecommunications market has been a hotly debated topic in the past few weeks, underpinned by a discussion between the Communications and Information Ministry (Kominfo) Postal and Information Technology director general Wayan Toni Supriyanto and SpaceX senior manager for government affairs Rebecca Slick Hunter. The discussion was about Starlink’s intention to do business in Indonesia, by providing internet services to the Indonesian people. Currently, Starlink already has B2B (Business to Business) partnership with Telkomsat, a subsidiary of PT. Telkom Indonesia Tbk. 

(Source: Starlink)

This gives Starlink the anchoring rights – permission given by Kominfo to telecommunications operators or broadcasting companies to use foreign satellites. This policy was issued on June 12, 2022. However, this only enables Telkomsat to provide backhaul services – ones that facilitate the movement of data from one infrastructure to another in closed network operations – not for direct internet access services to retail customers by SpaceX. 

Starlink is planning to enter the retail market, where it can directly sell its services to Indonesian customers, especially those residing in 3T (frontier, outermost and remote) regions still plagued by poor internet connectivity, giving rise to a so-called “digital divide”. However, as a foreign company, Starlink cannot simply market their services in Indonesia; hence, the recent discussions with several government agencies. Among the requirements that Starlink must fulfill to enter the retail market is the granting of a license as an Internet Service Provider (ISP). In addition, Starlink must secure permits for a network access point (NAP) as well as a very small aperture terminal (VSAT). 

Starlink’s business move has not been smooth sailing, as it encountered several roadblocks. While it has opened a local subsidiary, PT Starlink Services Indonesia, the Company stated that they were still reluctant to recruit local employees, one of the prerequisites for a foreign company to do business in Indonesia. Many even suspect that Starlink is trying to provide its product over the internet via an Over-The-Top (OTT) application which will allow it to bypass traditional distribution. 

Threat to cyber-sovereignty 

As we all know, Starlink is a satellite-based communications service provider, and it is owned by a foreign company. Thus, the same as any other foreign-owned telecom firm, it poses a potential national security threat. Currently, studies are being carried out to assess any security risks. 

One of the potential threats arising from over-reliance on satellite-based internet services operated by foreign companies is the loss of direct control over the infrastructure, which means that a country may not be able to take necessary actions in the event of an emergency or conflict situation. This can result in a country becoming more vulnerable to foreign interference through its telecommunications infrastructure. A country may not have full control over its networks, including the ability to stop or redirect services, in accordance with national policy. If access to such services is disrupted or blocked by foreign countries or hostile entities, it could impair a country’s ability to coordinate and take effective action when a conflict breaks out. Satellite-based internet services are critical for communications and coordination between government and the military. Disruption or termination of this service by foreign entities could disrupt critical functions of state agencies, such as coordination in natural disaster responses, military action or law enforcement. 


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