Elon Musk’s desire to bring high-speed broadband internet to South Africa, the country of his birth, may not come to fruition, due to a racist requirement by the South African government for telecom companies to have black owners.
Musk is currently developing the Starlink satellite-based internet network, which provides high-speed internet to anyone on the planet through satellites in low orbit, including those living in remote locations or areas without the proper fiber-based infrastructure to facilitate high-speed connections.
Already available in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia — and soon to be available in parts of Asia and Europe — Starlink offers speeds upwards of 50 Mbps with latency comparable to landed internet access. In February, Musk’s company opened preorders for Starlink in a multitude of countries where the service is currently unavailable, including South Africa. The preorder indicated that the service would go live in 2022.
However, as the South African-based MyBroadband reports, providing internet services in most countries requires regulatory approval from local authorities. SpaceX, which is operating Starlink, is already registered as a company in South Africa, but its approval to offer internet services is dependent on approval by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).
The ICASA says that it has had talks with SpaceX, but insisted that Musk needed to apply for a set of licenses to provide services locally. However, due to the implementation of a new set of undeniably racist regulations, every telecoms licensee in South Africa requires the company to have a black owner to be permitted to operate.
“An Individual Licensee must have a minimum of 30% of its ownership equity held by black people, determined using the flow through principle,” MyBroadband reports, adding:
In addition, individual licensees must have a minimum of 30% of its ownership equity held by historically disadvantaged groups, which include black people, women, people with disabilities, and youth.
SpaceX has not yet applied for any of the licenses required to operate in South Africa and is not expected to do so. It is possible that Musk could simply open a subsidiary of SpaceX based in South Africa with the appropriate employees to meet the minimum racial diversity standard required by the government.