The Bangladesh National Economic Council’s approval of the long-delayed Bangabandhu 1 telecommunications satellite appears to hinge on successful negotiations for the long-term lease of another nation’s orbital slot given the obstacles to using a Bangladesh-registered position, government and industry officials said.
After several years of attempts to coordinate one of its several orbital positions, especially at 69 and 102 degrees east longitude, Bangladeshi authorities have now turned toward the 26-nation Intersputnik organization of Moscow to lease a slot held by an Intersputnik member at 119 degrees east.
Officials described these negotiations as nearly complete, leading the National Economic Council’s Executive Committee to give final approval for Bangabandhu 1 the week of Sept. 17.
The council approved a budget of some 29.68 billion Bangladeshi taka, or $374 million, for the satellite’s construction, launch, insurance and ground network.
Bangladesh officials have said that while Chinese officials have offered to arrange the project’s development, the government is determined to organize an open international competition, with no prearranged winner.
A request for proposals for the satellite, to carry 24 Ku- and 16 C-band transponders, is expected before the end of the year, officials said.
Bangladesh would be the latest in a series of developing nations to embark on its own national satellite program in an attempt to stimulate its domestic technology industry and to end its current purchase of perhaps $10 million per year in satellite bandwidth leased from foreign fleet operators.
The Bangladesh satellite story also illustrates the difficulty some nations have in using what are, in principle, orbital slots allocated to them.
As has been the case with other developing nations entering the satellite communications business, Bangladesh has run into a thicket of complications at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Geneva-based United Nations affiliate that regulates wireless spectrum and orbital positions.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has been trying for years to coordinate several orbital slots with other nations that have priority access to these positions.
The BTRC said that for the 69 degrees east and 102 degrees east positions alone, it has sought, through the ITU, to coordinate broadcast rights with the United States, India, Pakistan, Israel, Japan, Armenia, Uzbekistan “and many more.” Not all these nations have registered satellites at the slots in question, but all have submitted filings to the ITU that have priority over Bangladesh’s.
One government official familiar with the Bangladesh situation said the attempt to coordinate frequencies at the 102 degree east position looks almost impossible, especially since Bangladesh’s deadline for completing coordination and putting a satellite at the slot is December 2015.
Other developing nations have faced the same roadblocks. In effect, they are only now arriving at a party that started 20-plus years ago and at which all the seats are occupied. This has led to creative use of ITU rules, most notably the Iranian attempt to persuade the ITU that it had met a satellite-use deadline by broadcasting through a U.S. satellite.
More recently, the government of Qatar has had to use its considerable financial muscle, and its privileged relationship with the Al Jazeera broadcast network, to wrest frequencies from the Arabsat consortium of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Bangladesh has already begun investing in Bangabandhu 1, with $11 million in consulting and technical management fees allocated between 2011 and 2015.
BTRC now looks ready to prepare a request for bids to be sent to global satellite manufacturers for an in-orbit-delivery contract, meaning the satellite builder handles the satellite’s construction, launch and insurance, and perhaps the ground control stations as well.
BTRC officials did not respond to inquiries about their continued work with ITU on frequency coordination.
In a statement that could have been written by any of the developing nations now entering the telecommunications satellite operations business, BTRC said: “A sovereign country, in pursuit of sustainable development, needs its own satellite to reduce its dependency on other nations. … Every member state of ITU has to follow ITU regulations in order to launch their satellite.”