Russia’s legislative body, the State Duma, is considering fines for individuals and companies in the country that use Western-based satellite Internet services. The proposed law seeks to prevent accessing the Internet by means of SpaceX’s Starlink service, OneWeb, or other non-Russian satellite constellations under development.
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 who use the Western satellite services.
In the Russian-language article, translated for Ars by Robinson Mitchell, members of the Duma assert that accessing the Internet independently 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 on media and communications, all Russian Internet traffic must pass through a Russian communications provider.
It is not surprising that Russia would take steps to block Starlink service—the country’s space chief, Dmitry Rogozin, views SpaceX as a chief rival in spaceflight.
Rogozin has been critical of both NASA and the US Department of Defense for subsidizing SpaceX through government contracts. (While it is true that SpaceX has received launch contracts from the US government worth several billion dollars, it has also provided launch services at a significant discount compared to other providers.) More recently Rogozin has said Starlink is little more than a scheme to provide US Special Forces with uninterrupted communications.
Starlink, Rogozin said last August, is part of “a rather predatory, clever, powerful, high-technology policy of the USA, which uses Shock and Awe in order to advance, before all, their military interests.” Rogozin also called SpaceX’s claim that Starlink was created in order to provide Internet service to the 4 percent of the Earth’s surface not covered by terrestrial Internet “nonsense.”
The ban on OneWeb is more interesting, given that the company is using the Russian Soyuz rocket to launch nearly all of its initial constellation into orbit. Monthly OneWeb satellite launches are planned this year, primarily from spaceports in Baikonur, Kazahkstan, and Vostochny, Russia. OneWeb is effectively helping to prop up the struggling Russian launch industry at a time when SpaceX is undercutting the country on commercial launch contracts.
Not to be outdone by Western competitors, Russia is planning its own satellite Internet constellation, known as “Sphere.” However there are questions about the affordability of this constellation, which could begin launching in 2024. The program’s budget has not been confirmed, but some reports have suggested it could run as high as $20 billion. This is far beyond the amount of money Russia spends on civil space. The current budget for Roscosmos, the Russian space corporation led by Rogozin, receives about $2.4 billion a year.