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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

U.S. quietly paying millions to send Starlink terminals to Ukraine, contrary to SpaceX claims

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Friday! A quick programming note: The newsletter will be off Monday but back in your inboxes Tuesday. Below: Alvaro Bedoya clears a key hurdle to getting on the Federal Trade Commission, and Amazon objects to a unionization vote. First up:

U.S. quietly paying millions to send Starlink terminals to Ukraine, contrary to SpaceX claims

After Russia launched its invasion, Ukrainian officials pleaded for Elon Musk’s SpaceX to dispatch their Starlink terminals to the region to boost Internet access. “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route,” Musk replied to broad online fanfare.

Since then, the company has cast the actions in part as a charitable gesture. “I’m proud that we were able to provide the terminals to folks in Ukraine,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said at a public event last month, later telling CNBC, “I don’t think the U.S. has given us any money to give terminals to the Ukraine.”

But according to documents obtained by The Technology 202, the U.S. federal government is in fact paying millions of dollars for a significant portion of the equipment and for the transportation costs to get it to Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it has purchased more than 1,330 terminals from SpaceX to send to Ukraine, while the company donated nearly 3,670 terminals and the Internet service itself.

While the agency initially called it a “private sector donation valued at roughly $10 million,” it did not specify how much it is contributing for the equipment or for the cost of transportation.

Sometime after the announcement, the agency removed key details from its release. It now states that USAID “has delivered 5,000 Starlink Terminals” to Ukraine “through a public-private partnership” with SpaceX but does not specify the quantity nor value of the donations.

USAID agreed to purchase closer to 1,500 standard Starlink terminals for $1,500 apiece and to pay an additional $800,000 for transportation costs, documents show, adding up to over $3 million in taxpayer dollars paid to SpaceX for the equipment sent to Ukraine.

In a letter to SpaceX last month outlining the deal, the USAID mission director to Ukraine said the terminals would be “procured” and sent on behalf of USAID by a third-party contractor, which would “arrange for transportation and delivery of the equipment” from Los Angeles International Airport to Ukraine via Poland.

The letter said the nearly 3,670 terminals donated by SpaceX would come with three months of “unlimited data.” In addition to the more than 1,330 terminals that USAID confirmed it had purchased, the agency earlier agreed to buy a separate 175 units from SpaceX, according to the documents.

On Thursday, USAID spokesperson Rebecca Chalif said in a statement that the “delivery of Starlink terminals were made possible by a range of stakeholders, whose combined contributions valued over $15 million and facilitated the procurement, international flights, ground transportation, and satellite Internet service of 5,000 Starlink terminals.”

The agency declined to answer questions about how much USAID funding is going toward buying and transporting equipment for Ukraine, referring them to SpaceX. SpaceX did not return a request for comment on the arrangement and the specific financials of the deal.

It is also unclear whether the price the U.S. government is paying for individual Starlink units matches their typical market price.

USAID is paying $1,500 for each standard terminal and the accompanying service, documents show. According to the Starlink website, a standard terminal set costs $600, while the monthly service charge costs $110, plus an additional $100 for shipping and handling.

According to The Verge, Starlink recently unveiled a separate premium service that prices the equipment at $2,500 and the monthly Internet charge at $500, but it remains unclear whether that is what Ukraine has received. SpaceX did not return a request for comment on the pricing.

The revelations show that while SpaceX appears to have donated a significant sum to Ukraine’s cause, it has done so with public assistance.

The United States and other countries have paid to send much of the known equipment to Ukraine. The transportation costs USAID has paid to ship the 5,000 terminals exceeds $800,000, according to the documents. French officials confirmed they also helped with transportation.

The office of the French state secretariat for digital affairs Cédric O told my colleague Rick Noack that SpaceX “transported 200 Starlink satellite kits, bound for the Ukrainian authorities, via cargo plane to Poland.” The office said that while they “provided logistics and transport,” they did not purchase the equipment, which was a donation from SpaceX.

Shotwell, the SpaceX president, had told CNBC that “France helped” and “I think Poland is helping.” The Polish Embassy did not return a request for comment Thursday.

Ukrainian officials have lauded the SpaceX contributions and credited the Starlink equipment with helping to keep their Internet online during the war.

“We are using thousands, in the area of thousands, of terminals with new shipments arriving every other day,” Mykhailo Fedorov, the Ukrainian minister of digital transformation, told my colleagues in an interview last month, using a Starlink connection from an undisclosed location.

His office did not return a request for comment Thursday on exactly how many terminals have been donated by SpaceX and other sources, including foreign governments.

Our top tabs

China emerges as potent outlet for Russian disinformation

Russia’s success using proxies and allies to disseminate disinformation has cast doubt tech giants and Western governments ability to rein in authoritarian propaganda, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports.

Chinese officials and state-controlled channels don’t face the same restrictions as Russian state-controlled media, said Bret Schafer, senior fellow and head of the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a nonpartisan initiative housed at the U.S. German Marshall Fund that tracks Chinese and Russian state media. “This has allowed the Kremlin to effectively skirt bans meant to limit the spread of Russian propaganda,” he said.

They also have a massive viewership. On Facebook alone, Chinese outlets have over 1 billion followers, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy — far more than the roughly 85 million total followers that Russia’s main channels have.

Asked about the issue, Facebook shared examples of fact checks on misleading pro-Russian content from Chinese state media. It didn’t respond to questions about whether it had restricted Chinese state media accounts or plans to do so.

Senate tees up confirmation vote for Bedoya at FTC

Alvaro Bedoya's confirmation cleared a key procedural hurdle Thursday, but the Senate concluded business and headed into a two-week break before taking a final vote on his nomination. The confirmation of Bedoya and Gigi Sohn, who President Biden nominated to be a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, would break partisan deadlocks that have limited the ability of Democrats on the FCC and FTC to implement their ambitious tech agenda

Bedoya’s nomination faces Republican opposition. Last week, Vice President Harris broke a 50-to-50 tie in the Senate to advance his nomination. That came weeks after the Senate Commerce Committee voted 14 to 14 along party lines to advance his nomination to the Senate floor.

Bedoya has spearheaded research into how the government’s use of facial recognition software and surveillance technology hurt marginalized groups. And as a Senate staffer, Bedoya was a key driver of privacy and surveillance as public-interest issues, Drew Harwell reports.

Amazon claims New York union threatened employees

Amazon Labor Union lawyer Eric Milner called the claims “really absurd” and said they would be overruled, Reuters’s Jeffrey Dastin, Julia Love and Nivedita Balu report. The National Labor Relations Board is giving Amazon around two weeks to back up its objections to last week’s vote, which saw Staten Island warehouse workers voting to unionize in what was the first successful U.S. organizing effort at the company.

The company faces a high bar in its objections, San Francisco State University labor professor John Logan told Reuters. It also plans to claim “that the ALU interfered with employees in line to vote and that long waits depressed turnout,” Reuters writes. More than 57 percent of eligible workers voted in the election.

Rant and rave

Twitter announced a new feature that lets users unmention themselves:

UBC Faculty of Forestry PhD student Tara Brown:

CNBC TechCheck's Jon Fortt:

Protocol's Kate Cox:

Agency scanner

A top federal labor official declares war on employer 'captive audience' meetings (Politico)

Yellen is calling for 'tech neutral' crypto regulation focused on potential risks (Protocol)

Inside the industry

Elon finally got his White House meeting (Protocol)

Crypto lobbyists condemn industry trolls targeting MEPs (Politico Europe)

Outrage after EU signs megadeal with UK firm to handle confidential data (Politico Europe)

Obama says he underestimated the threats posed by disinformation (CyberScoop)

China used TV, TikTok stars in discreet Olympics campaign (Associated Press)

Hill happenings

Dr. Oz wants to fight Big Tech in the Senate. He owns at least $10 million in shares of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. (Forbes)

Workforce report

Activision Blizzard converts over 1,000 QA testers to full time roles (Alyse Stanley)

Amazon faces shareholder vote on treatment of warehouse workers (Reuters)


Peter Thiel calls Warren Buffett a 'sociopathic grandpa from Omaha' and bitcoin's 'enemy number one' (CNBC)


  • Microsoft President Brad Smith and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet speak at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on responsible AI today at 8:30 a.m.
  • The American Enterprise Institute hosts an event on content moderation and Section 230 on Monday at 9:30 a.m.

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