EchoStar Appeals FCC Ruling on Relocating Satellite

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EchoStar and its partner, SES Global, once again are trying to persuade U.S. regulators to permit EchoStar to move an aging direct-broadcast television satellite currently over the United States into a waiting Mexican orbital slot.

The proposal to move the satellite was rejected June 3 by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which said the proposed maneuver did not offer sufficient public-interest benefit to warrant approval. EchoStar appealed the decision June 8.

The Mexican government license requires that the Mexican company QuetzSat place a satellite into operation at the 77 degrees west longitude orbital slot by July 10. QuetzSat is a start-up company created by SES Global with Mexican partners that paid the country’s government for rights to use the orbital position.

The FCC’s decision on the plan to move the EchoStar satellite to the Mexican satellite slot could have a bearing on a similar request : SES Global is planning a similar maneuver with another EchoStar satellite, this time for a Canadian orbital slot awarded to the SES Global-affiliated Ciel Satellite Communications Inc. of Canada. Like QuetzSat, Ciel is a start-up company created by SES Global with local partners.

Under the terms of the Canadian license for the Ciel Canada- orbital slot, that orbital location at 129 degrees west longitude must be occupied by Aug. 25.

Luxembourg-based SES Global and EchoStar had agreed that the aging EchoStar 4 satellite would be used as an interim place-holder for the Mexican orbital position. The EchoStar 5 is proposed for the Canadian slot, also on a temporary basis. New satellites then would be placed at both positions once SES Global, EchoStar and their affiliates confirm their business case. EchoStar has said it would not forever abandon the U.S. orbital position to be vacated by the EchoStar 4 satellite.

Littleton, Colo.-based EchoStar Communications Corp. asked the FCC June 8 to reverse its rejection of EchoStar’s request, saying the Mexican slot will not be just for direct-to-home broadcasting in Mexico, but also for customers in the United States.

The 21-page EchoStar appeal asks the FCC for an “emergency action” ruling within days to meet the July 10 deadline for the Mexican orbital position. As of June 10 no action had been taken.

In its appeal, EchoStar makes no attempt to hide its surprise at the FCC decision, which was written by FCC International Bureau Chief Donald Abelson.

The company says that, if it wanted to, it “could turn in its license for EchoStar 4 tomorrow without requesting prior approval from the commission,” and that what is asked in this case is equivalent to taking a satellite out of service.

EchoStar also gives further details of what it and SES Global plan to do from the Mexican orbital slot, in addition to providing Mexican consumers with a new source of satellite-television service : EchoStar says opening the Mexican slot would deepen the pool of radio spectrum available to serve U.S. consumers, permitting EchoStar “to offer local-into-local, HDTV [high-definition television], ethnic and other programming into the U.S.”

EchoStar further stated in its appeal that its proposal is nearly identical to what competitor DirecTV Group of Los Angeles was able to do in 2004 with two Canadian-registered orbital positions managed by satellite operator Telesat Canada. Two DirecTV satellites were moved into the Telesat Canada slots following FCC approval.

In his rejection of the EchoStar plan, the FCC’s Abelson says EchoStar’s proposal is different from that of DirecTV Group in 2004 because in that instance Canadian consumers needed the new satellite capacity following in-orbit failures of Telesat spacecraft.

In the case of Mexico, Abelson wrote , there is no ongoing service that needs to be continued.

An FCC spokeswoman said the agency could not comment on Abelson’s ruling because the matter is being appealed by EchoStar.

EchoStar said in its appeal that the FCC is a U.S. agency that has no business evaluating a case for satellites serving other nations that are also licensed by them. “The commission does not have authority to evaluate the service needs of the Canadian public or the alleged lack of service to the Mexican public,” EchoStar said in its appeal.