LATIN BIRD GOING UP

Argentina sat spells direct-to-home spat

BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s first telecommunications satellite is set to fly later this month, and a successful launch could be bad news for Latin America’s pan-regional satcasters.

Nahuel 1, which will be launched from French Guiana on Jan. 28, is owned by NahuelSat, a consortium led by Germany’s Daimler Benz Aerospace, Aerospatiale of France and Italy’s Alenia Spazio.

According to a resolution passed by regulatory body Comfer last year, foreign congloms intending to offer direct-to-home TV to Argentina homes must use Argentine satellites for that purpose so long as transponder space allows.

This would be an unwelcome burden for satcasters Sky and Galaxy Latin America, both of which currently use satellites with an Argentine reach and are looking to enter the Argentine market within a few months.

Preserving the status quo

Comfer resolutions have been overturned by lobbyists in the past, and Sky and GLA doubtless will seek to do likewise in the case. But NahuelSat will do as much as it can to uphold its quasi-monopoly, NahuelSat chief operating officer Eckart Schober told Daily Variety.

“We won the public bid (to launch and operate an Argentine satellite) and we invested a lot of money to fulfill Argentine government requirements. Therefore we demand the protection and rights we deserve,” Schober said.

NahuelSat is spending $250 million on its satellite program, which includes a purpose-built control center (already operating) and the launch costs of Nahuel 1. NahuelSat has operated since 1993, using two loaned Canadian satellites whose users will be transferred to the new bird. So far, the firm has signed new deals with telcos from Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay, as well as Argentina, for space on Nahuel 1.

The bird has 18 transponders and a footprint that reaches from Cape Horn to the southern U.S. Schober adds that its DTH capacity will be attractive to international players; for example, the satellite can provide DTH to parts of Brazil where subscribers can use 2-foot-diameter antennas rather than the 3-foot antennas they must now use.

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