Starlink, the satellite internet access service launched by billionaire Elon Musk, is deprived of its terrestrial frequencies in France, after a winning appeal by environmental associations before the Council of State. In a decision published on Tuesday April 5, the administrative court overturns Arcep’s decision, taken on February 9, 2021, to grant two frequency bands to Starlink to connect its satellites and its French end users. The Council of State criticizes Arcep for not having carried out “a public consultation” before granting this green light, even though this decision was “likely to have a significant impact on the supply market access to high-speed internet, and to affect users”.
The decision thus gives right to the arguments of the two applicants, the environmental associations Priartem and Agir pour l’environnement. Starlink could not be reached on Tuesday for comment on the decision. For its part, Arcep “took note” of the analysis of the Council of State and undertook to launch the public consultation requested “as soon as possible”, it indicates in a statement sent to the AFP. According to Me François Laforgue, lawyer for the associations, the court decision prohibits him from using these frequencies, and therefore from offering his service in France. This had been officially open since May 2021.
“An economic and environmental assessment” of the project
Stephen Kerckhove, general delegate of Agir pour l’Environnement, welcomed a decision which “put things right”. “By dint of wanting to go too fast, we end up cutting corners,” he said, referring to the fact that Arcep did not consult the public. “The Council of State sends a signal to those who confuse speed and haste”, he judged. In addition, “we now call on Arcep not to be content with formally applying” the consultation obligation, and “to carry out an economic and environmental assessment” of the Starlink project, he added.
The 12,000 small satellites that Starlink plans to launch, for example, will hinder anyone who likes to observe the starry sky, he estimated. “There are often attitudes of public authorities consisting in not respecting regulations, and favoring operators, and in particular by exempting themselves from public consultations”, lamented for his part Me Laforgue. The Starlink service allows residents of areas poorly served by the fixed and mobile networks of telecom operators to have access to the Internet, via thousands of small satellites circulating in low orbit (mainly 550 kilometers) around the Earth.