— Canadian start-up satellite operator Ciel Satellite Group is pinning its business prospects on selling satellite capacity from Canadian-approved orbital slots to
and Canadian direct-broadcast television broadcasters under a relatively recent frequency-opening move by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ciel Chief Executive Dave Lewis said.

Canadian regulators gave Ciel six new satellite broadcast licenses in June, including licenses to operate satellites in the so-called “reverse band,” or 17/24 gigahertz broadcast satellite service section, of the radio spectrum. The frequencies are called reverse band because they permit broadcasters to downlink in frequencies previously restricted to satellite uplinks.

The FCC approved the use of this band in mid-2007 after a long debate over whether direct-broadcast television satellites located closer to other television-broadcast spacecraft than the FCC-ordered nine-degree spacing would cause interference. Of the six licenses Ciel won, three are at slots that the FCC has tentatively approved for television broadcasts from satellites located just four degrees from each other.

High-definition television is catching on fast in
North America
, and despite advances in signal compression, satellite and broadcast industry officials predict HDTV channels will require at least twice as much bandwidth as standard-definition programming. As a result, satellite broadcasters are expected to be hungry for additional satellite capacity.

Lewis said Ciel’s three reverse-band positions – at 91 degrees, 103 degrees and 107.3 degrees west are all close to the orbital slots used by satellite-television broadcasters DirecTV and Dish Network of the
United States
, and Bell ExpressVu and Star Choice of Canada.

is owned by Borealis Infrastructure, part of a Canadian pension fund; and by SES of Luxembourg, whose Americom subsidiary in the
United States
already leases substantial capacity to Dish Network and its sister company, EchoStar.

secured the use of its first slot, at 129 degrees west, by gaining access to an aging EchoStar satellite. Ciel plans to launch its own Ciel-2 spacecraft late this year into the same slot. EchoStar is the principal customer for this satellite.

The Canadian reverse-band slots must be occupied by 2014 to preserve the frequency priority they currently have among international regulators.

“We’ve got a couple of years of nice, clear priority” before construction of the reverse-band satellites begins, Lewis said, adding: “EchoStar is a likely customer for at least two” of the reverse-band positions.