Advanced Television

New Spanish battlefront for SES Astra

April 20, 2012

From David del Valle in Madrid

Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES is now getting involved in a new battle with the Spanish administration over the allocation of the so-called digital dividend to be completed before January 2014. The Spanish subsidiary of SES, SES Astra Iberica, has announced it is to take part in the process, urging the Government not to discriminate the company as was the case, according to company, in the deployment of DTT to the benefit of DTT operators, namely Abertis Telecom.

“With the analogue (DTT) switch-off, there was no technological neutrality and satellite has been relegated so far without any reason. Now that we have to face the digital dividend we want us to be taken into account,” said Luis Sanchez Merlo, president of SES Astra Iberica, in a press conference.

The director of SES Astra Iberica, Luis Sahagún, added that the Government could not make the “same mistakes” as in the analogue switch-off by not counting on the satellite such as “huge investments, population areas without coverage, a lot of channels now to be reduced to half.” He pointed out: “We want to have clear rules to plan (the business) and not announcements about the cut in DTT channels or over the decision to bring forward the digital dividend.”

SES Astra warns that with the arrival of new mobile services to be launched in coming years, the radio spectrum will not have sufficient bandwidth to make a room for either the current TV offer nor HDTV or 3D broadcasts. To avoid this, SES is proposing to use, satellite distribution since there would not be any spectrum limit and would mean a significant cut in the cost of the DTT migration and the allocation of the digital dividend.

Indeed, the Administration is renegotiating with the sectors involved the plan to release the digital dividend for mobile telephony aimed at reducing the estimated €800 million cost. The Telecommunications Secretary of State, Victor Calvo-Sotelo, said that the liberalisation plan to release spectrum for 4G generation “was very ambitious but expensive” and admitted that it is being renegotiated.

Only the migration of TV channels to other frequencies would cost €40 million and should be completed before January 2014, a year ahead of the initial plan. The budget of the Telecommunications Secretary of State is €864 million, down 23 per cent from a year ago.

The Government is trying to convince Spanish broadcasters to give up half of their DTT frequencies to reduce costs, but TV operators are fiercely opposing the proposal. Also, the electronics industry and dish installers are also opposed to the measure.

In Spain, SES Astra has a penetration rate of 80 per cent, according to its latest monitor report. 82.2 per cent (2.28 million) of the total 2.77 million satellite households in Spain receive satellite TV through Astra, with 200,000 new households over the last year, up 10 per cent.

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