Starlink is imposing new data-usage limits on its Internet customers, slowing speeds after a customer uses 1TB in any given month unless they pay extra. While the new data limits are in some ways more forgiving than Comcast’s data cap, the change may be concerning to Starlink users who have already seen slower speeds in recent months.
“To ensure our customer base is not negatively impacted by a small number of users consuming unusually high amounts of data, the Starlink team is implementing a Fair Use policy for Residential customers in the US and Canada and all Business/Maritime customers beginning December 2022,” an FAQ says.
Under Starlink’s fair use policy, residential customers will get 1TB of “priority access data” each month. After using 1TB, customers can keep accessing the Internet at slower speeds or pay $0.25 per gigabyte for “additional priority access.” Starlink sent emails to customers notifying them of the new policy late last week. The residential service’s base price is $110 per month.
Starting in December, Starlink customers will have an option to opt into “automatic purchasing of additional Priority Access at any time from within their account, even before exceeding their Priority Access data usage limit,” the FAQ says. This would prevent any slowdowns but automatically charge users by the gigabyte after they go over their cap, potentially racking up big fees.
“A user will remain opted-in to purchasing additional Priority Access until the user chooses to opt-out,” the company says.
Overnight usage doesn’t count toward cap
Like other satellite providers, the SpaceX-run ISP will be more lenient on usage that happens overnight. “Your usage between 11 pm and 7 am will not count toward Priority Access data limits,” the policy says.
Starlink said customers will be able to see how much data they’ve used on the website by logging into their account and selecting “Manage” under “Your Starlinks.” Data usage information will also be available in the Starlink app by selecting the “person” icon on the home screen.
There doesn’t appear to be a specific speed limit for residential customers who exceed 1TB, but the impact is expected to be noticeable at certain times. A Starlink FAQ explains:
For Residential service plans, download and upload are queued behind other users with Priority Access, which may result in slower speeds. During times of peak network congestion, users will be able to engage in typical Internet activity like email, online shopping, or even downloading an SD movie, but may not be able to engage in activities like online gaming, video calls or downloading 4K and HD movies.
The fair use policy notes this could lead to “degradation or unavailability of certain third-party services or applications,” with bandwidth-intensive applications like streaming video “most likely to be impacted.” Starlink said there will also be times when the difference isn’t noticeable. “Importantly, in areas that are uncongested or at times of low usage, users should not notice any difference in performance between Priority and Basic Access during normal use,” the policy says.
Starlink for RVs will not get any priority access data. “RV and Best Effort service plans are permanently Basic Access,” Starlink says.
Business users will face more specific limits. After using all their priority access data, businesses would get speeds of just 1Mbps and have to pay $1 per GB for continued priority data, the policy says. Businesses can choose from plans that offer 500GB, 1TB, or 3TB of priority access data a month.
The Starlink Maritime service for boats will provide 5TB of priority access with 1Mbps speeds after that and charge $2 per GB for additional high-speed data.
“Starlink is a finite resource”
“Starlink is a finite resource that will continue to grow as we launch additional satellites,” the fair use policy says. “To serve the greatest number of people with high-speed Internet, we must manage the network to balance Starlink supply with user demand.”
Starlink engineers discussed the potential of a data cap in November 2020 in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread. “So we really don’t want to implement restrictive data caps like people have encountered with satellite Internet in the past,” they wrote. “Right now we’re still trying to figure a lot of stuff out—we might have to do something in the future to prevent abuse and just ensure that everyone else gets quality service.”
The Federal Communications Commission recently rejected Starlink’s application to receive $885.51 million in broadband funding, citing the service’s $600 price for hardware, slowing speeds, and “recognized capacity constraints.”