Two of the world’s top three providers of satellite capacity are locked in battle over rights to 500MHz of transmission spectrum for the lucrative UK DTH market served by BSkyB and also Freeview. The dispute, which has been simmering several years, was brought back to the boil by SES launching a new satellite, Astra 2F, into orbit in September, and stating that it intends taking over 500MHz of spectrum currently used by Eutelsat. Its intention is to do this from October 2013, at 28.2 degrees East, which is a prime slot covering the UK and Ireland, beaming highly popular channels from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. In total, the spectrum under dispute equates to 15 transponders capable of carrying 140 to 180 HD channels.
SES argues that there is no dispute because it had negotiated the rights to the claimed spectrum back in 2005, and that Eutelsat had been operating over those frequencies only on a temporary basis. The rights had been owned by Deutsche Telekom until 2005, with an agreement before then for Eutelsat to use the spectrum. But in 2005, Deutsche Telekom appeared to hand the rights over to German satellite services company Media Broadcast, which in turn signed a deal for those rights with SES. Having launched Astra 2F in the right position, SES now wants to invoke those rights that it believes it owns.
Meanwhile, Media Broadcast had been leasing capacity itself from Eutelsat, but according to some reports, ended that arrangement last year. For its part, Eutelsat is arguing that its own agreement with Deutsche Telekom had no time limit, and was still in force. The dispute therefore appears to hinge on whether SES actually did have full rights to the spectrum after its deal with Media Broadcast, if Eutelsat had a pre-existing contract for them dating back to 1999 that had never been annulled.
Eutelsat has now requested the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris to rule on whether Media Broadcast and Deutsche Telekom did have the right to snatch away the spectrum from Eutelsat. The ICC is an international business body that does arbitrate in disputes between major enterprises, although it is not totally clear whether its decision is absolutely binding across the world of satellite operations.
SES is the world’s second-largest telecommunications satellite operator by revenue after Intelsat, both based in Luxembourg, and operates a fleet of 50 geostationary satellites able to reach 99 percent of the world’s population. France-based Eutelsat is the world’s third largest satellite provider, covering the whole of Europe, as well as the Middle East, Africa, India and significant parts of Asia and the Americas.