French village says 'non' to Elon Musk's space-age internet

Tech billionaire Elon Musk. AFP/Britta Pedersen

PARIS - To realise his dream of satellite-powered internet, tech billionaire Elon Musk needs to install antennas around the world. In northern France, a village hopes he'll decide to keep those antennas far away.

Saint-Senier-de-Beuvron, population 350, is none too thrilled to have been picked as a ground station for Musk's Starlink project for broadband from space.

"This project is totally new. We don't have any idea of the impact of these signals," said Noemie Brault, a 34-year-old deputy mayor of the village just 20 kilometres from the majestic Mont Saint-Michel abbey on the English Channel.

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"As a precaution, the municipal council said no," she explained.

Musk, founder of SpaceX and electric carmaker Tesla, plans to deploy thousands of satellites to provide fast internet for remote areas anywhere in the world.

It's a high-stakes battle he is waging with fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon as well as the London-based start-up OneWeb.

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Antennas on the ground will capture the signals and relay them to individual user terminals connected by cable.

Starlink's contractor had already secured French regulatory approval to install nine "radomes" -- three-metre-tall globes protecting the antennas -- in Saint-Senier, one of four sites planned for France. 

In December, Saint-Senier issued a decree to block construction on the field.

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But the refusal was based on a technicality, and the contractor, Sipartech, told AFP that it plans to refile its request, which the council will likely be unable to block.

"That worries us because we have no data" on the eventual effects of the signals on the health of humans or animals, said Brault, herself a farmer.

"And when you hear that he wants to implant a chip in people's brains, it's frightening," she said, referring to Musk's Neuralink project.


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