SES Astra threatens legal action against Spanish govt

From David Del Valle in Madrid

SES Astra is to make a formal complaint before the European competition authorities against the Spanish Government for its alleged preferential treatment to Abertis Telecom in the deployment of DTT in the country.

The Luxembourg-based company has accused the Spanish Administration of helping out its main competitor in the market Hispasat, controlled by Abertis with a 33.4% stake, to win contracts to distribute DTT via satellite in those areas with poor DTT coverage.

SES Astra's executives will hold a meeting over the next weeks with the European Competition Authorities to raise the issue. "We will see whether a legal proceeding will be started and whether the Ministry of Industry has to take account of that", says Luis Sahun, General Director of Astra in Spain.

SES Astra points out that the Ministry of Industry is putting pressure on the Regional Governments so as not to have public tenders as the satellite distribution will be given for free to Hispasat. "The Government is in the hands of Abertis, which has the responsibility that the analogue switch-off in April 2010", Sahun claims.

SES Astra has already taken the case to the Spanish Telecommunications Market Commision (CMT). It has also appealed against a public tender in the Spanish region of Castilla y Leon, in the north, arguing that it is anti-competitive. Now, the company has announced that it will take the Cantabria Administration, in the north of Spain, to Court for cancelling a recent contract with SES to distribute DTT via satellite to the whole region.

In a letter, SES Astra urged the Minister of Industry, Miguel Sebastian, to guarantee transparency in the public aids to the satellite distribution and competition in the market.

By law, DTT coverage must reach 96% of the population in private TVs' case and 98% regarding public television by 2010. But, in certain regions, due to geographical problems, satellite distribution will be needed to cover up to 10%.

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