Unauthorised South African Starlink reseller shuts down

An unauthorised Starlink reseller, which at one point claimed to have supplied around 12,000 South African customers with kits for the low-Earth orbit satellite service, is halting all services due to “ongoing market instability”.

This notification was sent to customers shortly after Starsat Africa’s website and Facebook page were taken down, and its WhatsApp and email support lines became unresponsive.

Many of the company’s customers who had paid between R10,000 and R15,000 for their kits have remained without connectivity for months and have been struggling to move their Starlink roaming accounts to their own names.

To fully understand the predicament in which many of Starsat Africa’s customers now find themselves, it is important to note that many of them were initially with another Internet service provider — Northern Cape-based IT Lec.

IT Lec transferred its Starlink customers to Starsat Africa in August 2023, which it alleged was due to a cease-and-desist letter from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

Icasa had become aware that IT Lec was importing, distributing, and reselling Starlink kits en masse without the service having the necessary operating licences in South Africa.

What IT Lec did not share, however, was that it also received a cease-and-desist letter directly from Starlink, which demanded that the company transfer all its customers to their own accounts within 30 days or risk their deactivation.

Starlink cuts off over 300 users

Instead of transferring users to their own accounts, Starsat Africa continued to manage the former IT Lec customers’ accounts on their behalf — against Starlink’s terms of service.

While Starlink distributes its kits via authorised resellers in officially approved countries, it does not ever allow companies to manage residential customers’ accounts and charge additional fees to make a profit.

This is precisely what IT Lec and Starsat Africa were doing, with fees ranging between R1,299 and R1,799, while roaming subscriptions cost between R700 and R1,000.

In February 2024, Starlink bricked hundreds of kits belonging to Starsat Africa customers — including many who had first signed up for the service through IT Lec.

Starsat Africa blamed the issue on some of its customers reselling the service after buying from Starsat Africa.

However, legal experts and members familiar with Starlink’s terms of service have generally agreed the main reason was likely because Starsat Africa itself was violating the terms of service.

Starsat Africa repeatedly told MyBroadband that it was on a pre-approval list for distributors in South Africa.

But a Starsat Africa competitor said there had been no pre-approval list since Starlink switched its estimated rollout date in South Africa to “unknown”.

Starsat Africa could not supply any original communique from Starlink — like an email from official support channels — to prove that its own conduct was not to blame for the abrupt cutoff.

Starlink kits imported by IT Lec in storage

We were hesitant to accept the company’s claims as fact after we found Starsaft Africa had exaggerated its claim of 12,000 Starlink customers.

When Starlink started blocking some of the kits the company had supplied, Starsat Africa said 10% of its client base was impacted, working out to between 350 and 400 kits. On that basis, it only had 3,500 to 4,000 Starlink users.

Of those users, there is only one confirmed case in which a blocked kit was released and transferred to their own name by communicating directly with Starlink support.

For many of the other blocked users, Starsat Africa’s support has been highly unhelpful or non-existent, with WhatsApp messages and emails either going ignored for days or weeks or never getting a response.

While the company has alleged they cannot access affected users’ accounts, multiple Starlink support agents told bricked users Starsat Africa could action the migration on their end.

This would suggest that Starsat Africa deliberately refused to move customer accounts, preventing users from getting back online.

To add insult to injury, Starsat Africa would not replace bricked kits with free functional devices and instead offered discounted dishes — some of which were delivered in a dismal state with clear signs of previous use.

It also continued to advertise its managed service for at least several months after Starlink cut off a chunk of its customers for the violation.

The company has also taken long or appeared hesitant to migrate non-bricked users who wished to migrate urgently out of caution.

In the notification that it is halting services, Starsat Africa said that any outstanding accounts would be handled with the “utmost care”.

MyBroadband asked IT Lec and Starsat Africa for feedback on the latest developments, but they had not provided feedback by publication.

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Unauthorised South African Starlink reseller shuts down