France and Iran deadlocked over satellite slot

Iran and France are involved in a major disagreement over the 25.5/26 degrees East satellite orbital slot and which threatens the launch of a Eutelsat-backed $300 million satellite.  The dispute involves the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) which has somehow to find a judgement of Solomon to keep two important parties happy.

At the heart of the argument is Arabsat, which – it is claimed – has designated a portion of its frequencies as fulfilling the obligations of Iran’s Zohreh-2 (Venus) satellite. The Iranians cheekily state that these frequencies were previously in use aboard a Eutelsat craft, and before this were used at the location aboard an Intelsat craft. Eutelsat along with the French National Frequency Agency (ANF), and Intelsat, firmly deny any sort of arrangement with Iran.

The ITU’s regulations state firmly that if planned frequencies are not brought into use, or lapse for more than two years, then the slot is considered ‘vacant’ and transmission rights go to the next in line – in this case Eutelsat.  Using these rules and regulations the ITU allocated the frequencies to Eutelsat which will use them in a joint-venture with ictQatar for its 2013 planned satellite. Just to cement the agreement in place, Eutelsat has placed its Eurobird-2 satellite into the slot, and is using the frequencies to support Arabsat’s sales efforts.

It is at this point that the water gets muddy, and where Iran – and Arabsat – say that their contract is the mechanism whereby the Zohreh-2 craft HAD been brought into use. This has thrown a massive spanner into the ITU’s works. The ITU’s influential Radiocommunications Bureau, which decides on these things, had hoped that an agreement might emerge from a May meeting. No such luck!

Another meeting in June (13-21) at the ITU’s Geneva HQ, again without an agreement happening. Another meeting took place in early July. Reportedly officials at Eutelsat and Arabsat are close to an agreement, but it is the Iranians who are proving difficult.

Iran is firmly claiming that its Zohreh-2 satellite does exist, albeit in the form of rented or allocated frequencies on a succession of satellites starting with PanAmSat-5.

This is going to be a tough dilemma to resolve. Eutelsat have let it be known that their plans are continuing, which will mean that Arabsat’s 26 degrees East slot will be severely damaged once the Eutelsat craft is in place.

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