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TECHNOLOGY

The French village blocking Elon Musk’s space-age internet dream

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.

The French village blocking Elon Musk's space-age internet dream
SpaceX founder Elon Musk. Photo: AFP

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 Normandy village just 20 kilometres from the majestic Mont Saint-Michel abbey.

“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.

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.

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.

Francois Dufour, a Greens council member and retired farmer, said he believes residents had reason to worry.

“The risks from electromagnetic waves is something we've already seen with high-voltage power lines, which have disturbed lots of farmers in the area,” he said.

Besides, “social networks, internet, they exist already – why do we need to go look for internet on the moon?” he said.

France's national radio frequency agency ANFR, which approved Starlink's stations, says they present no risks to residents, not least because they will be emitting straight up into the sky.

There are already around 100 similar sites across France dating from the first satellite launches from 50 years ago, it adds.

That hasn't convinced Jean-Marc Belloir, 57, who worries that his cows will start producing less milk.

“On our farm, we're always online. My cows are linked up; my smart watch warns me when they're going to calve,” Belloir said. “But when you see the range of these antennas, there has to be some research” on the potential impacts.

Still, he baptised his latest calf “SpaceX du Beuvron,” combining Musk's firm with the name of the creek that runs through his village.

“We're not attacking Elon Musk,” said Anne-Marie Falguieres, who lives just 60 metres from the future Starlink station with her husband and two children.

“We're not technophobes. I'm a guide on the bay, I have an internet site, my husband works from home. But these antennas are completely new, at least in France, and we want to know if they're dangerous or not,” she said.

She also thinks the project is hardly necessary and unlikely to interest many, based on reports from the US.

“In the testing phase, they made you pay $500 for the dish and then you had to pay $100 a month for a subscription,” she said. “I don't think everyone's going to be able to pay that.”

Member comments

  1. Keep Musk OUT of France! Out of Europe!
    If Starlink is anything like the rest of the projects he’s bungled and cannot juggle (Tesla case in point.)
    Talk about A.D.D.

  2. Luddites are alive and well in France. Don’t forget not to hold your mobile too close to your head as your thoughts can be controlled by all the 5g transmissions.

  3. Maybe France needs to embrace Islam more so we can go back to the eighth century? Come on people, we need fast internet. And to Chez Moi, what has Elon done wrong?? Certainly achieved more than you as we would have heard of you otherwise…

  4. Tony … Musk builds companies and provides no structure. Tesla cars – easy to document – have a “million” showrooms, “no” service centers. 3 in France? They are ALWAYS breaking down.
    He must be playing with 10 companies, 7 children, 3 divorces … he’s ADHD all over the place. I used to listen to his every word like an IDIOT. Then sold the car and the shares. How would you know whom I was on a public web site? I could be the King of England for all you know. Oh, wait. 🙂

  5. I am definitely going to be the odd one out here. I and many of my friends have signed up for this service. Overall it is only slightly dearer than a ground based Internet provider, but in all tests it is up to 20 times faster than an internet service from wires. We cannot wait another 4 years for fibre to maybe arrive at our house. And you have to pay to have that installed. The residents of this village had better not be using satellite TV if they object to the Starlink dishes, which do not generate any kind of radiation except in a straight line up into the sky – it’s a bit like a torch.
    One other little feature, the VPN to watch UK TV is built into the system for free.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

France to roll out ID cards app

Technology is being rolled out to allow people to carry their French ID cards in an app form - and could be rolled out to other cards, including driving licences and cartes de séjour residency cards.

France to roll out ID cards app

Holders of French carte d’identité (ID cards) will soon be able to carry certified digital versions of them on their smartphone or other electronic devices, a decree published in the Journal Officiel has confirmed.

An official app is being developed for holders of the newer credit card-format ID cards that have information stored on a chip. A provisional test version of the app is expected at the end of May.

Users will be able to use the ID card app, when it becomes available, for a range of services “from checking in at the airport to renting a car”, according to Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market.

All French citizens have an ID card, which can be used for proving identity in a range of circumstances and for travel within the EU and Schengen zone – the new app will be in addition to the plastic card that holders already have.

Under the plans, after downloading the app, card holders will need merely to hold the card close to their phone to transfer the required information. According to officials, the holder then can decide what information is passed on – such as proof of age, or home address – according to the situation.

The government has not given any examples of situations in which the app would need to be used, but has set out the main principles and the ambition of the plan: to allow everyone to identify themselves and connect to certain public and private organisations, in particular those linked to the France Connect portal.

READ ALSO What is France Connect and how could it make your life simpler?

Cards will continue to be issued for the foreseeable future – this is merely an extension of the existing system.

Only French citizens have ID cards, but if successful the app is expected to be rolled out to include other cards, such as driving licences, cartes de séjour residency cards or even visas. A digital wallet is being developed at the European level – Member States have until September to agree what it could contain.

READ ALSO Eight smartphone apps that make life in France a bit easier

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