Eutelsat is involved in an increasingly bitter dispute with its arch-rival SES Astra. The two giants are arguing over 500 MHz of satellite capacity at the 28.5 degrees East position, which is used to beam hundreds of channels into the UK and Ireland.
Eutelsat on October 16th filed a request for arbitration against SES with the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce, arguing that SES Astra is in breach of an agreement signed with SES back in 1999 which co-ordinated the transmission of each party’s signals from 28.2 degrees East (over which there is no dispute) and 28.5 degrees East.
“Eutelsat’s position is that the agreement between SES and Media Broadcast, signed seven years ago, and only disclosed by SES in its release of 1 October 2012, violates the terms agreed in the 1999 Intersystem Coordination Agreement, specifically SES’s commitment to respect Eutelsat’s operations at 28.5 degrees East,” said Eutelsat in a statement.
SES fired back a robust – and highly detailed – statement explaining bluntly why they believe they are on safe ground. In essence, SES claims that they have acquired the disputed rights by means of an clear and above-board agreement with the company which actually owns the licence to use the frequencies. Moreover, they say the rights have the backing of the German regulator as well as the ITU. SES says it “strongly disagrees” with Eutelsat’s position and will “vigorously defend” its rights.
The full statement says: “SES has been granted rights to use German Ku-band orbital frequencies at the 28.5ºE orbital position effective from October 4, 2013 onwards pursuant to a 2005 agreement with German media service provider, Media Broadcast (“MB”) (as successor to T-Systems Business Services). MB holds a license for these frequencies issued by the Bundesnetzagentur, the German regulator, on the basis of German filings that have priority under the rules of the ITU.
The agreement will give SES the right to use, on its fleet, 500 MHz of bandwidth at this orbital position adjacent to SES’s 28.2ºE in the frequency bands 11.45 – 11.70 GHz and 12.50 – 12.75 GHz in downlink and 14.00-14.50 GHz in uplink. SES has procured and will launch and operate new satellites (ASTRA 2E and ASTRA 2G) at 28.2ºE/28.5ºE, along with the recently launched ASTRA 2F satellite, to replace SES’s existing fleet at 28.2ºE and to provide new capacity. The new satellites in this neighbourhood will use the additional frequency spectrum as of October 2013 for DTH satellite television services in the U.K. and Ireland and for other services inside and outside of Europe.
Eutelsat is currently operating these frequencies on the Eurobird-1 satellite (also known as Eutelsat 28A) under a 1999 agreement with Deutsche Telekom AG (“DTAG”), the former licence holder of these rights before it transferred its satellite activity to MB in 2002. Eutelsat has commenced arbitral proceedings against DTAG and MB in April 2011, claiming that it has the rights to use these frequencies beyond October 2013.
Eutelsat also disputes the grant of right of use of these frequencies by MB to SES. SES strongly disagrees with Eutelsat’s position and will vigorously defend its right to use these frequencies from October 4, 2013 on the basis, among other things, that Eutelsat’s rights to these frequencies will expire on October 3, 2013, that nothing prevents SES from using these frequencies as of October 4, 2013 and that the filings pursuant to which MB’s licence for these frequencies was issued by the Bundesnetzagentur have priority under the rules of the ITU.
SES stresses it will launch new, powerful satellites to enhance coverage from 28.2/28.5, and bring the craft into use during 2013-2014, as well as the recently launched Astra 2F.
As far as Eutelsat is concerned it is worth re-stating that they already have one application before the Paris Arbitration Court, which SES declines to recognise.
It is also worth examining the damage this (potential) loss of 500 MHz of satellite capacity, and what it could represent to Eutelsat’s revenues. The disputed 500 MHz is about two-thirds of the satellite’s capacity, and equals about 30-transponder equivalents, or around 300 channels.