Starlink: Read the Fine Print*

Blurred Starlink Terms of Service

*Well, it’s not really fine print…it’s the same size as the rest, but “read the regular sized print” doesn’t make for a compelling title, even if it’s more accurate.

On February 23, 2021, we paid a deposit for Starlink internet service in anticipation of it eventually becoming available in our location. We figured that since we were within spitting distance of Austin (not that we ever spit in that direction, except mentally), surely the wait wouldn’t be long. Boy, were we wrong.

On July 20, 2023, we received notification that service was now available and Starlink would ship the necessary equipment once we confirmed that we still wanted the service (which we did because we do). The order shipped via FedEx the next day, and we had the antenna and modem a day or two later…almost exactly two years and five months after paying the deposit.

On August 4, we received an email from Starlink notifying us that our first monthly payment of $120 for service would be due on August 12. That was my cue to do something that I am routinely lax about doing, and should have done back in 2021: I read the Terms of Service. This is what I discovered (emphasis mine):

2.4 Payments for Monthly Service Subscription. You authorize Starlink to charge your approved payment method for –

a) Monthly Service Fee. Monthly recurring charges for the Services selected in your Order, starting 21 days after Starlink ships your Starlink Kit, or at Kit activation if purchased from an authorized retailer or transferred Kit;

In other words, whether or not you’re using Starlink’s service, and regardless of when you actually receive the equipment, you’ll be billed each month beginning 21 days from when they ship it. You can debate the fairness of this approach — I certainly have — but it’s not as if Starlink was conspiring to hide it from us. But from a practical standpoint, it really is an unfair practice, at least for our specific situation.

Starlink DishEven though Starlink’s website touts its “easy self-install,” that assumes that you have a nice safe space on the ground to set the antenna (which is actually a small motorized satellite dish) close to your house and you don’t mind running the cable to the modem across the ground or burying it. That’s because the basic installation kit comes with only a short antenna stand and a relatively short length of Starlink’s proprietary cable — no standard coax for them. So if that type of installation won’t work for your layout, you’ll have to order a different type of mount and perhaps a longer cable.

In our situation, because of all the trees around our house, only a roof mount will work. And because I’m not an idiot, I’m not going to climb on our steep-pitched metal roof to mount the antenna and run the cable into the attic, and then down to our office where the modem will reside. That means we’ll need to get a professional installer out to do the job.

We’ve already had an installer out to do a site analysis, and they’ve determined that a chimney mount will work for us, and for that I’ve had to order another $180 worth of equipment (mount, extended cable, and Ethernet adapter) — in addition to the $550 for the basic equipment — and wait for the week-to-ten-days shipping before I can even schedule the installation. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that we’ll have to pay for three months of (non)service before we can actually use Starlink.

It could be worse. The tech from the installation company who came out and did the site analysis said that he’s aware of some folks who didn’t get their equipment installed until nine months after receiving it.

Again, I can’t accuse Starlink of hiding this practice, although I do fault them for the delay in shipping the necessary mounting equipment. And I don’t really intend for this to be a rant, per se…just a word to the wise: read the TOS and understand its potential implications if you’re thinking about ordering the Starlink service.

I’ve heard good things about the service from others in the area who now have it, so I hope that when it’s all said and done (and paid for — I have no idea what the installation cost will be) we’ll find it was all worth the wait and the expense.