SES rejects Eutelsat assertions of agreement breach in 28.5 degrees East row

Joseph O'Halloran | 17-10-2012

A simmering row over satellite transmission at the 28.5 degrees East orbital position has now burst out in the open with Europe’s leading satellite operators, Eutelsat and SES, headed for the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Eutelsat has filed a request for arbitration against SES with the ICC with regard to what it asserts is a breach by SES of the 1999 Intersystem Coordination Agreement which was designed to allow for clear broadcasting skies over Europe by coordinating the two providers’ respective operations at several orbital positions, including 28.2 degrees East and 28.5 degrees East.

Rejecting any notion of a breach, SES says that it has been granted rights to use German Ku-band orbital frequencies at 28.5 degrees East effective from 4 October 2013 as part of a 2005 agreement with German media service provider Media Broadcast who holds a license for these frequencies issued by the Bundesnetzagentur, the German regulator.

The agreement, adds SES, was made on the basis of German filings that have priority under the rules of the ITU and will give SES the right to use, on its fleet, 500 MHz of bandwidth at this orbital position adjacent to SES’s 28.2 degrees East 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.

With the deal in place, SES will launch and operate new satellites—ASTRA 2E and ASTRA 2G—and use the already launched ASTRA 2F craft to replace its SES’s existing fleet at 28.2 degrees East 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 UK and Ireland and for other services inside and outside of Europe.

However, Eutelsat's position is that the agreement between SES and Media Broadcast violates the terms agreed in 1999, specifically SES's commitment to respect Eutelsat's operations at the satellite neighbourhood. That deal put in place an agreement whereby both operators would “optimise the use of the scarce natural resource of satellite broadcasting frequencies over Europe.” Crucially the agreement added that it would cover both current and planned use of “certain orbital positions in the respective Ku frequency bands over Europe” ensuring interference free satellite broadcasting.

The agreement allowed for Eutelsat to use at 28.5 degrees East the frequencies in the FSS band (11.20–11.70 GHz and 12.5–12.75 GHz) to ensure the continuation of services carried at that orbital location on the DFS Kopernikus satellite of Deutsche Telekom the former licence holder of these rights before it transferred its satellite activity to Media Broadcast in 2002.

Services are currently transmitted on the Eutelsat 28A satellite; they will subsequently be operated by SES craft under the terms of its new deal with Media Broadcast.

Speaking exclusively to Rapid TV News, Yves Feltes, VP of media relations at SES rejected Eutelsat’s claims and said that SES would “vigorously” defend its rights to use the aforementioned frequencies as of October 2013. Asked how SES would respond to any possible legal action, Feltes said: “We are very confident…we have a valid contract with Media Broadcast which is the licence holder of these frequencies and [which form] the basis of a strong legal claim which we are confident to defend against any claim to the contrary.”

In addition Feltes offered assurance that contrary to some reports, there would be no disruption to satellite services, in particular those of BSkyB which are based on SES’s ASTRA craft. “Eutelsat seems to be hinting that there could be some kind of interference and impact on millions of households in the UK and Ireland and that is simply not true” Feltes insisted. “The fact is that from October 2013 these frequencies will not be operated from Eutelsat satellite but from SES satellites. This is completely transparent to any consumer so there is no need to create any anxiety on the consumer side.”