Tuesday, 13 May 1986
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Leyden: asked the Minister for Communications the present position regarding the issue of a licence to Atlantic Satellites for the provision of direct satellite broadcasting on orbital slot 31 degrees west longitude; and the expected coverage of footprint.
Mr. J. Mitchell: Negotiations with a view to concluding an agreement with the company in question are continuing and in this regard I have agreed to a request from the company for an extension of the time until 10 June 1986 to allow it to comply with the conditions referred to in my reply to a question on this subject by the Deputy on 18 December 1985, columns 2731 to 2736, Volume 362, No. 14 of the Official Report.
The footprint of a transponder is determined by the purpose for which it is to be used, the technical characteristics associated with that use, its power, and the size and sensitivity of the receiving dish. The coverage area of an Irish DBS service would include the whole island of Ireland and a substantial portion of the UK using a 60 to 90 centimetre receiving dish. Others such as cable operators in Europe using larger dishes could probably also pick up the signal.
Mr. Leyden: Has the Minister made  provision for the downstream development of receiving dishes and associated equipment and the issue of licences to people who have this equipment? Further, is he making provision for the involvement of both RTE and Telecom Éireann in relation to the services that will be provided by Atlantic Satellites?
Mr. J. Mitchell: First, we have to finalise negotiations with Atlantic Satellites and see if those negotiations lead us to proceed with a direct broadcasting satellite project. Only if such a project goes ahead should we address ourselves to some of the areas referred to by the Deputy. It would not be appropriate for the Department or myself to be directly involved in some of them but in other cases it would be appropriate. With regard to receiving dishes, I am considering this matter at the moment and I hope to be in a position to make an announcement in the very near future.
Mr. Leyden: I get the impression the Minister is dragging his feet in relation to this matter. Certainly it appears he has had second thoughts with regard to the project. I ask him to expedite a decision in relation to this major project. It could have tremendous benefit for the country and we would be ahead of the British in relation to the launching of the satellite. Thus, major benefits could accrue to the economy and to employment here. Does the Minister propose to place legislation before the Dáil in order to give Deputies an opportunity to discuss the long-term implications of the launching of the satellite and the control of films and videos that would be broadcast directly into Ireland? What kind of control does he envisage in relation to direct satellite broadcasting when it becomes a reality?
Mr. J. Mitchell: I do not think the Deputy is serious when he refers to me dragging my feet on this matter. As he pointed out in his question, we have got in ahead not only of the British but of many other countries by our expeditious treatment of the report of the satellite  committee. As I pointed out to the House on many occasions, the committee was set up by Deputy Wilson who showed great foresight. When that report came to me some months after coming to office I was able to deal with it very expeditiously. We had hoped to have got to a certain stage in the negotiations where we could agree a business plan with the company by 10 March but they requested an extra three months which runs out on 10 June. This is a major project but one that carries considerable risks. I can assure the House that not only will there be no delay but there will be expedition in the way my Department and the Government deal with this matter. However, we will not so rush our fences as to make a mess of it as considerable sums are involved. There are considerable risks but there are also considerable opportunities.
Mr. Leyden: At one stage the Minister indicated there would be no financial risks for this country, that it would be the responsibility of Atlantic Satellites. In fact, he said we would be getting 25 per cent of the share of the satellite free of charge. Where are the financial implications for this country?
Mr. Leyden: Where does the cost for the State come into all of this considering the Minister stated originally that the agreement with Atlantic Satellites was a 25 per cent share free of charge? We were given to understand that Atlantic Satellites would be taking all the risks with the Hughes Corporation of America and that we would have no financial commitment whatever.
Mr. J. Mitchell: I said there were large risks involved. It is extremely important that we get right the business plan, the make-up of the satellite, the kind of services and so on. Only by getting all these things right will we maximise the opportunities  here. If we get them wrong we could lose many opportunities and it could be very costly. It is a complex question. We are entering new ground. It is a sector that is developing rapidly so that the latest technology is quickly out-of-date. What was relevant or correct a year ago may not be correct today and what is correct today may not be relevant or correct in a year's time.
Mr. Wilson: The Minister stated that the footprint area depended a great deal on a number of technicalities which he listed in his reply. Is it not true to say that the maximum footprint area has been defined and agreed internationally already, including France and some parts of Europe?
Mr. J. Mitchell: As the Deputy knows, a slot in space was given to Ireland in 1977 and the footprint or area of coverage was agreed in 1977. However, because of foreseeable technological developments it can be taken that the coverage area of a footprint would be much larger than was originally intended, and perhaps in years to come it will be much larger again.
Mr. J. Mitchell: It has been agreed internationally that a slot in space be given to each country. We got a very good location. That was designed to give us a footprint broadly covering these islands. The island of Ireland was the centre of the footprint but because of the ripple effect of airwaves it would also cover these islands. Because of technological developments in relation to the capability of satellites and of receiving dishes, footprint boundaries are ever  widening. I said earlier it should be possible for cable systems on the near continent, possibly to Scandinavia, to pick up the signals from such a DBS and it is also conceivable they could be picked up by cable systems on the east coast of the United States. This is something that is developing all the time. I will not be surprised if in due course the footprint for our satellite, if it gets off the ground, will be very much wider indeed.
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