Russia’s legislature, the State Duma, is considering fines for individuals and businesses in the country that use Western-based satellite Internet services. The proposed law seeks to prevent access to the Internet using SpaceX̵
According to a recent report in the Russian edition of Popular Mechanics, the recommended fines range from 10,000 to 30,000 rubles ($ 135- $ 405) for ordinary users and from 500,000 to 1 million rubles ($ 6,750 to $ 13,500) for legal entities that use the western satellite services.
In the Russian-language article, translated into Ars by Robinson Mitchell, Duma members claim that independent access to the Internet would bypass the country’s System of Operational Search Measures, which monitors Internet use and mobile communications. As part of the country’s tight control over media and communications, all Russian Internet traffic must pass through a Russian communications provider.
It is not surprising that Russia will take steps to block the Starlink service – the country’s space chief, Dmitry Rogozin, sees SpaceX as a major rival in space.
Rogozin has been critical of both NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense for subsidizing SpaceX through public contracts. (While it is true that SpaceX has received multibillion-dollar launch contracts from the US government, it has also provided launch services at a significant discount compared to other providers.) Recently, Rogozin said that Starlink is not more than a scheme to supply U.S. special forces with uninterrupted communication.
Starlink, Rogozin said in August last year, is part of “a rather predatory, clever, powerful, high-tech policy in the United States that uses Shock and Awe to advance their military interests.” Rogozin also called SpaceX’s claim that Starlink was set up to provide Internet service to the 4 percent of Earth’s surface not covered by terrestrial Internet “nonsense.”
The ban on OneWeb is more interesting as the company uses the Russian Soyuz rocket to launch almost its entire original constellation into orbit. Monthly OneWeb satellite launches are planned this year, primarily from space ports in Baikonur, Kazakhstan and Vostochny, Russia. OneWeb is effectively helping to support the struggling Russian launch industry at a time when SpaceX is undercutting the country on commercial launch contracts.
In order not to be surpassed by Western competitors, Russia is planning its own satellite Internet constellation, known as the “Sphere”. However, there are questions about the affordability of this constellation, which may begin in 2024. The program’s budget has not been confirmed, but some reports suggest it could run as high as $ 20 billion. This is far beyond the amount Russia spends on civilian space. The current budget for Roscosmos, the Russian space company led by Rogozin, receives about $ 2.4 billion a year.