Mysterious Satellite Interference Compels Israeli Government To Act

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  Space News Business

Mysterious Satellite Interference Compels Israeli Government To Act

By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
Space News Correspondent
posted: 09 November 2007
01:03 pm ET








Yes TV Demands Compensation, Corrective Action


TEL AVIV, Israel — P


rodded into action by public outrage and




heavy lobbying by the satellite TV firm Yes




Inc., the Israeli government is assessing a package of measures designed to protect commercial broadcast licensees from the type of signal interference that in recent weeks has financially crippled Yes, Israel’s




sole satellite television service provider.



Following more than a month of unexplained and costly disruptions to Yes broadcasting signals, the Israeli cabinet in mid




October pledged coordinated government action to halt offshore interference in the firm’s satellite broadcasting signals.

In a likely test case for government intervention on behalf of commercial firms, the cabinet also directed an inter-ministerial committee to come up with new rules and emergency procedures for assuring the integrity of future satellite broadcasting signals.

The cabinet’s Oct. 14 directive put an end to institutional reluctance by Israel’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) and other government authorities to become involved in what many of them considered private-sector business bailouts.

“Deploying government assets – especially military assets – to insure corporate revenue is highly inappropriate. Today it’s just Yes, but tomorrow there may be many others. And where will it all end?” said retired major general Yitzhik Ben-Israel, a legislator from Israel’s ruling Kadima Party who also serves as chairman of the Israel Space Agency.



According to a publicly released protocol of the cabinet decision, the Communications Ministry-led




committee, which includes senior representatives from the nation’s defense, foreign affairs, finance and justice ministries, is required to submit an interim report of its findings and recommendations by mid




November.



MoD is responsible for the military and it is not their job to assist commercial firms. But once the government made its decision, their role in helping us locate the source of the disturbances became crystal clear,” said Moshe Galili, director of the spectrum management and frequency licensing division in Israel’s Communications Ministry.

Under terms of the Communications Ministry’s licensing contract with Yes, Galili said the government is obliged to make “reasonable efforts” to solve interference problems. “One of the missions of this new committee will be to define more precisely what constitutes reasonable effort and under what conditions must those efforts come into play,” he said.




Aside from the commercial aspects of the Yes case, Galili said the government’s decision to get actively involved underscores the national importance of ensuring uninhibited television broadcasts in times of emergency. This assessment was shared by Ronen Moshe, media advisor to Defense Minister EhudBarak.



“We cannot allow any loss of government control over television broadcasts in Israel. This is a critical requirement of our Homefront Command, and in this regard, we’re all going to draw lessons from this episode with Yes,” Moshe told Space News Oct. 25.






Mystery Interference




The mysterious interference began just hours before a Sept. 6 Israeli air attack in Syria, details of which, while widely reported, remain heavily classified here by order of Israel’s military censor.

Government officials claim no connection between Yes broadcast disturbances and the Sept. 6 attack, yet still have not




determined definitively who is to blame for the interference and whether the culprits have permanently ceased activities marring Yes operations. Local press reports attributed the source of interference to a Dutch naval ship deployed off Israel’s northern Mediterranean coast, part of a UN force monitoring events in Lebanon.

Galili
declined to identify which government vessel was suspected of the disruptions, but confirmed that a navy ship off Israel’s northern Mediterranean coast bordering Lebanon was the source of electro-magnetic disruptions to Yes-designated frequencies. He also said “it is the assessment of the Communications Ministry” that signal interference was unintentional.

In an Oct. 24 interview, Yes spokeswoman Libby Chipster said the company has not experienced broadcast interference since Oct. 9, but still does not know whether this signifies a brief respite or a permanent return to the firm’s normally high-level of customer service. She assessed direct damage from the month or so of interrupted service at tens of millions of shekels, with Yes facing lawsuits and other intangible expenses – such as damage to the firm’s reputation – that could elevate company expenses “by at least an order of magnitude.”



“It ended as suddenly and as mysteriously as it began … We’re still waiting for the government to inform us that this nightmare is over and that this type of interference will never happen again,” she said.



MoD sources here said that shortly after the Yes disturbances began, technical specialists from the military’s Command, Control, Computers and Internet division conducted a thorough search to determine that Israeli systems were not responsible for the interference.

“Once we determined that it wasn’t any of our own military systems, we initiated contacts with relevant national command authorities operating in this region,”




Moshe said. Almost immediately following Barak’s personal appeals to the Dutch minister of defense, signal disruptions ceased, he added.

In addition to a $30 million class-action lawsuit against the company by disgruntled subscribers, Yes incurred tens of thousands of dollars in expenses to hire ships, helicopters and speciality equipment in the weeks prior to MoD’s deployment of its own source-detection assets. In an Oct. 10 interview with




News First Class, a local information service, Yes Chief Executive Ron Eilon likened the company’s ongoing financial crisis to a tsunami




from which few survive.

Chipster
declined to elaborate on published remarks attributed to her boss, but acknowledged that Yes was struggling towards profitability even prior to the signal disturbance crisis. Since the start of Yes broadcasting services in July 2000, Chipster said the firm has paid 25 million shekels each year ($6.3




million) in annual government frequency licensing fees.

“These frequencies are a national asset, and Yes pays dearly for their usage. We expect our government to provide clean frequencies and to implement procedures that prevent this from ever happening again,” said Chipster. She declined to discuss the extent of government compensation demanded by Yes, but insisted that the company was considering litigation if “appropriate” remuneration was not forthcoming.






No Disruption to Amos Satellite Signals







Executives here insisted that Yes-operated processing and receiving technology remained fully functional throughout the offshore interference episode, as did the Amos-1 and Amos-2 satellites whose transponders are used to downstream multi-channel broadcasts directly to homes of the firm’s 545,000 registered subscribers.



“The problems weren’t with Yes or with the Amos. On that, there is absolutely no dispute,” said David Pollack, chief executive of Spacecom Ltd., owner and operator of the locally




built Amos spacecraft serving Yes customers in Israel. Both geostationary satellites broadcast on the Ku-band frequency from their position at 4




degrees West.



“In this specific case, the offending radar emissions didn’t disturb or even come close to reaching Amos satellite transponders or affecting the downstream,” said TalInbar, director of the Space Research Center at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space studies here. “The satellites worked 100 percent; but at some point along their way to home terminals, the downlink from the satellite was cut by an enormous amount of power emitted from a similar frequency,” he said.



Inbar said the ongoing Yes experience should serve as a wake-up call to those in government and industry who are not sufficiently concerned about the inherent vulnerability of commercial satellites. “I couldn’t understand why it took so long for the government to act, but I’m glad that it finally assumed responsibility,”




Inbar
said.




“This case shows how relatively easy it is – even with off-the-shelf technology – to interfere with essential broadcast signals we count on for beeper, cellular and television service.










In a television appearance prior to the Cabinet’s mid-October commitment to action, Pollack was one of many business executives and industry advocacy groups lobbying for government intervention.

When asked by Israel’s Channel 10 talk show hosts whether Yes would need to hire a security force to locate and halt the source of disturbances, Pollack replied: “Yes doesn’t need to establish a militia. Yes needs to do just what it’s doing, which is appeal to the authorities. There is a government that gave them the frequencies, and there is a government that took money from them for these frequencies. And therefore it’s the government that must act decisively to halt the interference and make sure it won’t happen again.