Eutelsat-SES Frequency Dispute Escalates

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on Oct. 16 widened its dispute with rival SES about rights to 500 megahertz of satellite bandwidth over Europe by announcing it had requested arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce.

This new proceeding is in addition to an existing arbitration between Paris-based Eutelsat and customer Media Broadcast, which plans to end a Eutelsat contract in 2013 and to take both its business and 500 megahertz of German-registered frequency assignments with it to SES.

The 500 megahertz in question, equivalent to nearly 14 transponders, are distributed around 28 degrees east over Europe, which in satellite-bandwidth terms is among the highest-priced stretches of orbital real estate.

Eutelsat is arguing two points. The first is that, although Media Broadcast has a right to end its contract with Eutelsat in October 2013, it does not have authority to take the 500 megahertz of capacity with it.

Eutelsat’s second point is that Luxembourg-based SES has no right to abrogate the 1999 Intersystem Coordination Agreement between the two satellite operators — the complex arrangement governs operations of multiple satellite slots over Europe — by taking 500 megahertz of capacity that was part of the deal.

In an Oct. 17 interview, Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said the 1999 agreement, which has provided a framework for SES-Eutelsat relations since, has no end date and gives as many benefits to SES as to Eutelsat. Ending it, she said, would pose as many risks for SES as for Eutelsat.

The agreement, as described in a joint statement the companies made in 1999, “also extends to mutually interference-free operations within the arc of 16 degrees east to 21.5 degrees east for both operators.”

Implicit in the Eutelsat position is that the 1999 agreement must be left as is or scrapped entirely, in which case Eutelsat could consider building satellites for slots now used by SES, and wooing SES customers.

In an Oct. 17 statement, SES said 500 megahertz of bandwidth it currently leases on Eutelsat’s Eurobird 28A satellite at 28.5 degrees east will be transferred to one or more SES spacecraft under a 2005 contract between SES and Media Broadcast. SES did not disclose that contract until Oct. 1, just a few days after its Astra 2F satellite was placed into orbit.

SES said Media Broadcast’s contract with Eutelsat ends in October 2013, and that the German radio frequency regulator, the Bundesnetzagentur, has assigned the 500 megahertz of bandwidth frequencies to Media Broadcast under a license.

Media Broadcast and the 500 megahertz of bandwidth in question will transmit via Astra 2F, intended for the 28.2 degrees orbital slot, as well as by two more SES satellites scheduled for launch by 2014, according to SES’s Oct. 1 announcement.

SES said it will “vigorously defend its right to use these frequencies from October 4, 2013. Eutelsat’s rights to these frequencies will expire on October 3, 2013. [N]othing prevents SES from using these frequencies as of October 4, 2013.”

SES said the German frequency filings for the 28-degree region have priority at the International Telecommunication Union of Geneva, which regulates global orbital slot and broadcast frequencies.

In an Oct. 17 interview, SES spokesman Yves Feltes declined to detail the company’s rights and obligations under the 1999 agreement with Eutelsat, citing the pending arbitration.

Eutelsat’s O’Connor similarly declined to provide language from the 1999 Intersystem Coordination Agreement that would prevent SES from cutting a deal with Media Broadcast for frequencies assigned by the German government.

 

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