Massive problem for people who bought Starlink kits through one unofficial South African reseller

A company that unofficially resold SpaceX’s Starlink services and managed their subscribers’ accounts in South Africa is refusing to give users free replacements of their bricked dishes.

Hundreds of Starsat Africa’s customers were cut off from the service in early February 2024, presumably due to the ISP illegally reselling Starlink subscriptions.

Starlink has not launched in South Africa and only works locally when using a more expensive roaming subscription with a service address in a country where it is officially available.

This has led to several companies and individuals offering to import the kits on behalf of users desperate for connectivity.

Some of these entities — including Starsat — also offer a management service which sees them acting an intermediary between the customers.

This is against Starlink’s Terms of Service for residential users, with whom it only deals directly.

Starsat says it has tried to get the accounts associated with the roughly 350–400 kits unblocked but has struggled with Starlink’s support team.

Numerous Starsat customers on Facebook groups for Starlink users in South Africa have complained that the ISP is not giving them feedback on these follow-ups.

Some customers have also said that Starsat has admitted it has not been able to get any of the blocked kits released for migration to self-managed accounts.

IT Lec vs Starsat Africa

Starsat Africa’s customers include former Northern Cape-based IT Lec clients.

This ISP was among the first major players to bring Starlink kits into the country in large volumes and also managed most of its customers’ accounts on their behalf.

While IT Lec repeatedly insisted that the two companies were completely separate entities, several members of South African Starlink user groups alleged they were the same or, at the very least, closely linked.

That included one Warren McFrost (suspected pseudonym), who worked out that the FNB account used by Starsat Africa for payments belonged to a person with the same initials and surname as a director at IT Lec.

They posted a photo with the account number and name of the account holder — “JH Lombard trading as Starsat Africa” — and screenshots from a LinkedIn page for Johannes Lombard.

One of IT Lec’s directors — Mauritz Coetzee — responded and denied that Lombard was a director at IT Lec, asking that the person behind the Facebook post perform a Companies and Intellectual Properties (CIPC) database search to verify this.

The LinkedIn page with Johannes Lombard’s details was removed shortly thereafter, but a cached link to the page was still available on Google Search at the time of publication and on RocketReach.

Recently, a website that popped up, dubbed Starsat Exposed, alleged that IT Lec and Starsat Africa were one and the same.

While the individuals or entities behind the website are unknown, they posted a CIPC search result showing that Johannes Hendrik Lombard had at one point been employed at IT Lec.

Those initials matched those of the name of the Starsat Africa bank account holder.

However, he was not listed as a director at the time of publication.

Potential millions in profit

IT Lec initially charged R1,799 per regional roaming subscription for accounts registered in Mozambique.

This was around R700 per month more than if a customer directly paid Starlink with a self-managed roaming account in Mozambique.

Many people were willing to live with this premium because their other broadband options were slower or more expensive, and they did not want to be fussed with managing their Starlink account.

When IT Lec transferred customers to Starsat Africa, it had around 3,000 Starlink users.

At that point, Starlink had expanded into several other African countries, including Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia, some of which offered cheaper regional roaming prices of between R700 and R800 per month.

Therefore, IT Lec could have been making roughly R1,000 monthly profit per customer using its reselling services.

In one month, the total profit would have ranged between roughly R2.1 million and R3.3 million, assuming the lowest and highest potential differences between IT Lec’s subscription price and the roaming fees in various countries.

IT Lec transferred its customers to Starsat Africa in August 2023 after the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa served it with a cease-and-desist.

Starsat Africa is believed to have many of the same directors as IT Lec.

Effective 1 December 2023, Starsat Africa reduced subscription prices to R1,299, still between R200 and R600 more expensive than the direct roaming prices.

MyBroadband calculated that IT Lec and Starsat Africa potentially made between R9 million and R13.2 million with the premiums they charged over and above Starlink’s roaming fees.

To replace the maximum 400 bricked kits supposedly impacted by Starlink’s blocking action at their original prices of R14,999, Starsat Africa will take a hit of about R6 million.

Instead, it charges customers with bricked kits R5,999, excluding taxes and shipping, to get a replacement unit registered in their own name. This is for only the dish — not a whole kit.

The table below shows how much profit IT Lec and Starsat Africa made based on the minimum and maximum profit margins levied on Starlink roaming packages paid by the roughly 3,000 customers they had in August 2023.

IT LEC/Starsat Africa estimated Starlink roaming profit
Monthly subscription price Lowest profit margin per customer Highest margin per customer Total profit on 3,000 customers
IT Lec profit (August 2023 only) R1,799 R700 R1,100 R2.1—R3.3 million
Starsat Africa profit on R1,799 subscription (September to November 2023) R1,799 R700 R1,100 R6.3—R9.9 million
Starsat Africa profit up to February 2023 (December 2023 to February 2024) R1,299 R200 R600 R600,000—R1.8 million
Total estimated profit for IT Lec + Starsat Africa (August 2023 to February 2024) R9—R13.2 million

One customer who has taken the option of a replacement kit told MyBroadband they received their dish over a month after ordering and that it was scratched, faded and “very second-hand”.

“I was very surprised that I’ve received an old used dish,” they said. “I’m curious what arrangement they have wangled on their side.”

“In fairness, they did not technically say it would be a ‘new’ dish, but I would have assumed so considering the cost.”

However, the replacement dish was also not working, with an error showing it was in an unexpected location and could only be used in its registered location.

“Starsat is refusing to give me the login details and are saying I have to pay them an additional ‘migration’ fee before they will even activate the unit,” they said.

The company charges R1,299 for this service.

MyBroadband asked IT Lec and Starsat Africa for feedback on these issues, but neither had responded by publication.

The Starsat Exposed website was taken down sometime late last week.

It had recommended that users impacted by Starsat’s cutoff explore one of five avenues:

  1. Consumer Protection Act (CPA) — Lodge a complaint with the National Consumer Commission if Starsat’s practices are found to be in violation of the CPA.
  2. Small Claims Court — For claims within the monetary jurisdiction of this court, individuals can seek resolution without the need for an attorney.
  3. Civil Lawsuit — Individuals can initiate a civil lawsuit to recover damages if they believe they have suffered a financial loss due to Starsat’s actions.
  4. Legal Advice — Engaging with a lawyer to receive personalised legal advice on the best course of action is advisable.
  5. Ombudsman —  They may approach the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud if they believe Starsat has contravened the CPA.

The website’s administrators said Starsat’s retention of customers’ login credentials, which has shackled users to Starsat’s intermediary “support desk” for basic service adjustments, had further entrenched customers’ dependence on Starsat.

Many users have been critical of Starlink’s own response to the resale of its services and its support teams’ reluctance to migrate the kits of blocked users to their own accounts.

However, doing so could be risky without a thorough investigation.

Having a Starlink kit linked to a specific password-locked account ensures that the kit can be blocked in case of theft.

Allowing migration of a kit to a customer’s own name without being able to prove they are the legitimate owner causes a bit of a conundrum.

A rare success

Nonetheless, at least one customer claimed that he convinced Starlink to unblock his kit after an elaborate conversation with a support agent.

After contacting Starlink customer support, he was told Starlink had determined he had engaged in fraudulent activities or theft of kits.

He responded by explaining his predicament in detail.

“I politely replied to the email stating that I am an end user and I have no business selling kits or services,” the user explained. “I explained that I bought the kit through IT Lec.”

“I went on to say that they marketed themselves as a legitimate Starlink reseller and an authorised management service and unbeknownst to us, they were not.”

He sent Starlink a link to a MyBroadband article that elaborated on the likely reason the kits were blocked.

“I asked Starlink for the chance to transfer the kit onto my own name since [I] would like to continue using the service within their terms and conditions,” the user said.

“Starlink replied, saying they unlinked the kit from Starsat and that they are making an exception because they can see that I am an end-user and am not involved in activities that go against their Terms of Service. They said they would not do this again for me.

“Don’t give up, keep on mailing Starlink, be polite and honest about the situation — Starsat is at fault here, not you.”

Unfortunately, there has been no confirmation from other users who have had similar success.

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Massive problem for people who bought Starlink kits through one unofficial South African reseller