Israel’s government is doing the right thing by
preparing itself to act more quickly the next time commercial satellite services within Israeli territory are disrupted by radio frequency interference.
Following an offshore signal interference problem that for more than a month crippled broadcasts by the satellite TV firm Yes Inc., the Israeli cabinet in October directed the relevant government ministries to study identification and mitigation procedures and report back in November. The result should be a government that is better prepared
the next time something like this happens to take quick steps to restore the public’s access to the airwaves. Although the Israeli government did intervene in this instance to halt the signal disruption, which eventually was traced to a Dutch navy ship operating in the Mediterranean, they did not act
until well after Yes had begun to suffer
�painful financial losses as thousands of customers cancel
ed their service.
What is surprising is the level of internal opposition to the government’s decision to get involved.
“Deploying government assets – especially military assets – to insure corporate revenue is highly inappropriate,” said retired major general Yitzhik Ben-Israel, a member of the Knesset’s ruling Kadima party and chairman of the Israel Space Agency. “Today it’s just Yes, but tomorrow there may be many others. And where will it end?”
With all due respect, Mr. Ben-Israel should be asking about the consequences of no government intervention. Yes, for example, could have been ruined financially had Israeli Defense Minister EhudBarak not appealed directly to the Dutch government to halt the interfering transmissions. And what of the Yes customers who were unable to receive television broadcasts for so long?
It is not a government’s job to protect corporate profits per se. But government
always has had a role ensuring that companies have a reasonably safe and orderly environment in which to operate. The airwaves are a public resource: keeping them free of obstruction is fundamentally no different than keeping sea lanes open for commerce; it is the reason satellite companies and other communications providers require operating licenses.
As a politician, Mr. Ben-Israel also should recognize that a government that fails to act on behalf of its citizens in such a case runs a huge risk of handing its political rivals an explosive and possibly decisive campaign issue.
Yes and its customers suffered not because of anything they did wrong but because of something that clearly was beyond their control. Certainly it is appropriate for governments to get involved
in cases such as this, especially when the source of the interference – intentional or not – is outside a country’s borders.
ommercial satellite interference is not just an economic problem; it can impair a government’s ability to govern. Television, whether delivered by satellite or other means, is one of the primary ways in which a government communicates with its citizens. The disruption to Yes broadcasts could have had far more severe consequences had some sort of national emergency occurred and the government was unable to alert customers of that particular TV service.
This is not to say that responsibility for dealing with commercial satellite interference rests solely with governments. Indeed, satellite operators can and should do more to combat what appears to be a growing threat to their livelihood. In the case of Yes, the interference only affected downlink signals rather than the satellite carrying the transmissions. Nevertheless, satellite operators need to begin investing in anti-jamming systems
and other protective capabilities for their platforms. There have been several instances in recent years of deliberate jamming of satellite signals and also hijacking of transponders and it is a trend that is likely to grow worse before it gets better.
There also are commercially available services that specialize in pinpointing sources of satellite signal interference, and operators should look to these first before requesting government assistance. But
even the most sophisticated satellite operators can find their mitigation options limited once the source of a problem is located. Private companies have few effective tools for dealing with interference – even accidental interference, much less deliberate interference.
Governments must be prepared to step in and provide assistance in such cases, particularly on the diplomatic front. Satellite companies are in business to make money, to be sure, but there is more than profit at stake here.