Communications Minister to defend Elon Musk deal before lawmakers

musk communications ministry
Communications Minister Fábio Faria and billionaire Elon Musk. Photo: Cleverson Oliveira/Mcom

Brazilian Communications Minister Fábio Faria will on Tuesday argue before Congress that he never tampered with regulators to grant Starlink, a company belonging to tech tycoon Elon Musk, clearance to operate in Brazil. 

As mentioned in our Brazil Daily earlier today, Mr. Faria is to address a joint session of multiple House committees to provide explanations on a deal with Starlink to connect schools in remote Amazon areas to the internet.

Anatel, Brazil’s telecoms watchdog, announced in January that Starlink had gotten authorization to provide services in Brazil until 2027. The announcement came two months after a meeting between Messrs. Faria and Musk in Austin, Texas.

Left-wing website Brasil de Fato published documents that show that Mr. Faria’s office actively sought out Anatel about Starlink’s grant. One of the sources heard by the website argues the move is not business as usual.

The Communications Ministry tells The Brazilian Report that the licensing process for the low-Earth orbit satellites occurred “in a transparent way,” and that other companies — Kepler, Swarm, and Telesat (all Canadian-owned) —obtained similar authorizations.

“Dialogue with companies that produce and operate in the telecommunications sector is within the Communications Ministry’s constitutional mandate, with the objective of learning about the most innovative technologies in the area,” the ministry argued.

In his meeting with President Bolsonaro last month in the state of São Paulo, Mr. Musk said Starlink will provide internet access to schools in remote areas of the Amazon. However, this is already part of the contractual obligations assumed by the winners of the government’s 5G auction last year.

The ministry admits that this is true, but argues that it won’t hurt to have an additional provider: 

“The operators that won the 5G auction have the obligation to provide internet access to public schools in various locations in the country, including the Amazon region. However, the ministry also looks for different technologies to reach remote regions with little or no connection. Equipment such as those provided by low-orbit satellite companies can help achieve this objective.”

One phone call between Mr. Musk and Mr. Faria, mentioned in the documents revealed by Brasil de Fato, does not appear on the minister’s public schedule. The ministry informed that “the minister’s agenda does not include phone calls.”

Anatel did not reply to a request for comment.