Satellite operators: EU too focused on high-speed Internet

The EU is in danger of missing its targets for more broadband connections across the bloc by focusing too heavily on land-based high-speed Internet, argues Aarti Holla, secretary-general of the European Satellite Operators Association (ESOA), in an interview with EURACTIV.

Aarti Holla is secretary-general of the European Satellite Operators Association (ESOA).

She was speaking to EURACTIV's Claire Davenport.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

Satellite has not been at the forefront of the EU debate on getting 100% broadband coverage by 2013, as called for under the Swedish EU Presidency. The debate appears to be focused on rolling out fibre networks with faster speeds. So where do you fit in?

We feel satellite is essential if we want to achieve 100% inclusion within any reasonable timeframe and if 2013 is to be a reality. The [European] Commission has said it wants 50% of the EU to have speeds of 30 MBs by 2013 and 100 MBs by 2020.

If the European Commission wants to achieve that objective – especially for member states emerging from the economic crisis – they will need an affordable and immediate solution like satellite with Wifi behind it.

Wouldn't more satellite broadband prevent investment in terrestrial network infrastructure that the EU has said it is prioritising?

Why would it? We don't feel that we are competing with other land-based offers but that we are complimentary and that we go where others don't want to go.

We hear a lot of politicians saying that new spectrum is the answer but that is a fallacy. There are a range of different technologies that should be allocated to different regions. In a flat area WiFi and Wimax is good. In a mountainous area, satellite is better. Different technologies don't operate everywhere. The answer is a mixture of technologies.

Take the UK, for example, where people complain about the current broadband speeds. In technical terms this is due to a contention ratio as there are more people online and the pipes are shared by more competing services.

Also if fibre comes then you just take the satellite dishes and move them to a white spot where there is no coverage.

Are you getting any signals from the European Commission that they are exploring a wider range of solutions to rolling out more broadband?

The Commission has paid lip service to the notion of mixed technologies but the debate is largely dominated by getting high speeds. Even Video On Demand (VOD) does not need more than 4-5 MBs. The question really is: what are the services that they believe would require 100 MBs. It's all a little detached from reality.

There is nothing wrong with wanting higher speed but a blanket policy is not the right answer. We must invest where there are market failures.

What about cost? Is satellite cheaper?

Yes it is. We can connect antennas and set top modems that would cost between €250-500.

Let's consider Alta Valle del Reno, a village in a mountainous region of Italy. The public authorities invested nearly €400,000 in 10 new masts to boost the terrestrial signal strength. After six months they had just 150 new subscribers. So the real cost per person was nearly €2700, or something like that, if you divide €400,000 by 150.

The cost for satellite is just a fraction of that. So you see a blanket notion does not make the best use of public funds.

If satellite is so cheap, why is fibre still dominating the debate then?

There is a lack of awareness. People are blinded and think we have to do it this way. They are blinded by politics. Fired up by fibre, if you will.

You cannot invest in just one technology without making an informed cost benefit analysis of the technology. You cannot roll out fibre without knowing how many people actually want or need to be connected.

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