Launch of SES’s Astra 2F Reignites Frequency Dispute with Eutelsat

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NAPLES, Italy — Europe’s two biggest satellite operators are fighting over rights to 500 megahertz of broadcast spectrum over Europe, with Eutelsat trying to hold on to the property and SES saying it will take ownership of it in October 2013.

The issue has been on the back burner at both companies for several years but recently was revived with the launch of SES’s Astra 2F satellite, which was placed into orbit Sept. 28 and is expected to operate at 28.2 degrees east.

In confirming the satellite’s successful launch, Luxembourg-based SES announced Oct. 1, almost in passing, that Astra 2F and two other satellites nearing launch will, as of October 2013, “use additional frequency spectrum for which the right of use was granted to SES by Media Broadcast pursuant to an agreement entered into in 2005.”

SES spokesman Yves Feltes said that following its contract with Media Broadcast, SES will take over rights to 500 megahertz of spectrum — the equivalent of 15 transponders — now held by rival Eutelsat of Paris on board the Eutelsat 28A satellite at 28.5 degrees east.

Deutstche Telekom used to have rights to these frequencies, but transferred its satellite activity to Media Broadcast several years ago.

SES never announced its 2005 agreement with Media Broadcast. But industry officials said Media Broadcast likely informed Eutelsat in 2011 that it would be ending its lease on Eutelsat 28A.

Eutelsat responded by asking the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris to rule on whether Media Broadcast and Deutsche Telekom had the right to snatch away the spectrum from Eutelsat.

In reporting its quarterly financial results in May 2011, Eutelsat said that in April of that year it demanded ICC arbitration “to enforce its rights at the orbital position of 28.5 degrees East.” The Eutelsat agreement with Deutsche Telekom dates from 1999. Eutelsat argues that there was no time limit to these rights, and that they cannot be transferred.

Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said Oct. 4 that Eutelsat was blindsided by the SES announcement. She said the fact that SES now has a satellite in place does not bolster SES’s rights to the spectrum, and does not supersede the ICC procedure that Eutelsat now expects to result in a decision in 2013.

“It seems to us they are jumping the gun,” O’Connor said. “We are in arbitration with Media Broadcast and Deutsche Telekom, and this arbitration relates to some of the frequencies at 28.5 degrees east. Nothing will be clear until the arbitration ruling.”

SES spokesman Yves Feltes said SES is not a party to the ICC arbitration and does not believe it has much of a bearing on the company’s rights to the spectrum that resulted from the Media Broadcast contract.

Feltes said SES has “secured rights to operate 500 megahertz of spectrum” now hosted on Eutelsat 28A starting in October 2013. These rights, he said, will be exercised aboard SES’s own fleet, rather than through a Eutelsat lease.