Starlink recently introduced a new method for managing network traffic under its Fair Use Policy.
This implementation has caused some confusion among Starlink users, with many worrying about severely degraded performance (hint: this is likely not the case).
In this article, I will explain what Starlink’s Fair Use Policy is, who it applies to, when it began, and any other important details.
What Is Starlink’s Fair Use Policy?
The Starlink Fair Use Policy governs network traffic management and customer data allocation based on Service Plans to ensure equitable service.
One, if not the most notable aspect of the policy is the 1 terabyte ‘Priority Access’ limit that Starlink introduced.
However, as of May 2nd, 2023, Starlink revised portions of its Fair Use Policy. The cap does not apply to subscribers of Residential (now also called Standard).
The Residential/Standard plan assigns an unlimited amount of “Standard” data each month to customers.
Here’s an overview of the speeds users subscribed to Standard (Residential), Priority (Business), and Mobile (Roam & Maritime) can expect:
The 1TB cap is, therefore, only applicable to those subscribed to the Priority and Mobile Priority plans.
Once users on those plans exceed the 1TB threshold, they will experience Standard levels of speed.
Meanwhile, Mobile users will always be deprioritized compared to other Starlink service plans, resulting in slower speeds in congested areas and during peak hours.
You can track your monthly data usage and purchase additional Priority Access at any time via the Starlink App and in the Starlink Account Portal.
Simply log into your account and click on MANAGE under YOUR STARLINKS. You’ll then be presented with the following screen highlighting your data usage for the current month.
If Standard data speeds are not satisfactory, then you can purchase additional gigabytes of Priority data as well.
Starlink charges $0.5 per additional gigabyte for Business/Priority subscribers and $2 per GB for Mobile Priority users.
Consequently, only customers subscribed to the Business (= Priority) and Maritime (= Mobile Priority) plans can purchase additional Priority Access data.
Importantly, in areas that are uncongested or at times of low usage, users should not notice any difference in performance between Priority and Standard Access during normal use, so purchasing additional Priority Access data may not be required.
The Fair Use Policy went into effect in April 2023 after being postponed two times. Initially, it was slated for December 2022 go-live only to be then pushed to February 2023 and April.
Lastly, adopting some sort of cap is a fairly common practice among satellite-based internet service providers (ISPs).
And if you do, then there’s the option to subscribe to plans with higher Priority data allotment. Subscribers of Business/Priority, for example, can also purchase 2TB and 6TB Priority data plans, respectively.
Who Does The Policy Apply To?
Starlink’s Fair Use Policy applies to all subscribers, regardless of the plan you chose or where you reside.
However, most of the pain will likely be felt in North America over 80 percent of all Starlink subscribers are situated.
Starlink remains waitlisted in a good chunk of the United States (see image above). Luckily, capacity continues to be freed up, with the US having full coverage by the end of 2023.
California, for example, was only moved out of the waitlist back in February 2023. Portions of the East Coast where unlocked a few weeks later. And in June, portions of the US and Canada were made available.
As a result, Starlink tries to curb data usage via its soft cap to ensure that enough bandwidth is available for everyone. In the past, subscribers located in North America have lamented about decreasing speeds.
For instance, performance in Europe has started to improve. Meanwhile, in the United States, Starlink moved thousands of users from Best Effort to Residential back in March 2023, indicating that more capacity is now available.
Therefore, it would not be surprising if Starlink eventually abandons its Fair Use Policy, especially considering its consumer-friendly cancellation policy and rising competition from the likes of OneWeb and Amazon’s Project Kuiper.
Does It Mean Starlink Data Is Not Unlimited?
No, the 1 terabyte limit is a soft cap. This means that once you surpass the threshold, you will simply be deprioritized. You will still have a functioning internet connection, albeit likely a slower one.
Consequently, users subscribed to Priority and Mobile Priority who haven’t used up their capacity will be ‘served first’.
In the context of satellite-based ISPs, prioritized users receive a larger portion of the available bandwidth, allowing them to experience faster speeds.
Each satellite has a limited capacity to transmit and receive data, which is determined by factors like the number of transponders on the satellite, the satellite’s power output, and the efficiency of the modulation and coding schemes used.
This capacity is usually shared among multiple users, which means the total available bandwidth must be divided among them.
Plus, the radio frequency spectrum, through which Starlink satellites transmit data signals, is a finite resource, so Starlink can only operate in selected frequency bands (to avoid interference) that are shared with other operators as well.
With that being said, being deprioritized doesn’t necessarily mean that your speeds will drop to unusable levels.
Performance degradation is ultimately dependent on how busy your cell is during the time you access the internet.
In conclusion, Starlink’s Fair Use Policy aims to maintain equitable service and sufficient bandwidth for all users by implementing a 1TB soft cap on Priority Access.
Given the cap’s generous allowance compared to competitors and the potential for policy adjustments as the network expands, users can remain hopeful about future changes and improvements to the service.