Starlink eyes Southeast Asia foothold with the Philippines

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Philippines is set to become the first country in Southeast Asia to access SpaceX’s Starlink broadband services, its government announced March 31.

Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez has committed to assist SpaceX’s expansion into the archipelago as it seeks to register services there, the country’s Department of Trade and Treasury said in a news release.

“Their system will augment as well as complement existing broadband capacities,” Lopez said in a statement.

“This will further capacitate micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), facilitate online learning, e-commerce and fintech.”

The news release said Starlink aims to deploy three gateways in an initial phase and target areas where connectivity has been difficult or impossible.

SpaceX is also in the process of setting up a wholly owned Philippine subsidiary. 

On March 21, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed legislation that allows up to 100% foreign ownership of public services in the Philippines. 

The amended Public Service Act encourages investments in telecoms, transport and other sectors deemed essential to public welfare.

“I believe that through this law, the easing out of foreign equity restrictions will attract more global investors, modernize several sectors of public service and improve the delivery of essential services,” Philippine President Duterte said in a statement posted by the government’s presidential communications operations office.

SpaceX did not return an email requesting comment.

The Department of Trade and Treasury news release said SpaceX and the Philippine government “intently discussed the project’s entry timeline” during a U.S. investment mission in November, followed by a series of meetings as the amended Public Service Act legislation was finalized.

“At present, their application is being processed and the locations of their gateways are being visited,” the Department of Trade and Treasury added.

SpaceX has amassed a quarter of a million subscribers for its broadband service as it works to expand global coverage, Starlink commercial sales vice president Jonathan Hofeller said March 22, and has seen a sharp increase in demand amid the pandemic.

The company has launched 2,335 Starlink satellites to date, according to statistics maintained by Jonathan McDowell, with 2,110 still in orbit.