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ViaSat throws temper tantrum over European in-flight connectivity

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ViaSat has decided to throw a hissy-fit over the Ofcom decision to grant Inmarsat a license for its European Aviation Network, threatening legal action over the move.

Ofcom must be sitting back and wondering if it is able to do anything right. Every decision it seems to make is met with a chorus of lawyers serenading the watchdog to the legal dancefloor. Three is usually the one who complains it isn’t getting more help despite not putting its hand in its pocket, and now ViaSat seems to be doing the same thing.

“We are extremely disappointed by Ofcom’s decision to grant Inmarsat authorization to operate its EAN,” said Rick Baldridge, ViaSat’s President and Chief Operating Officer.

“The facts are clear: Inmarsat is abusing the initial grant of the 2GHz spectrum, as set forth by the European Commission (EC) by changing the original tender granted to them with their intent to deploy a Pan-European terrestrial wireless network; and admittedly missing numerous deadlines as related to the original award.

“This blatant misuse of spectrum needs to stop now. It establishes precedent for any organization to use spectrum without following the rules. As we’ve publicly stated: we believe the EAN violates the original decision of the EU legislature that the S-Band be used for mobile satellite systems—not a terrestrial wireless network (also known as an Air-to-Ground or ATG).

“We remain diligent in our efforts to have the EC halt Inmarsat’s ATG deployments in the S-Band; declare Inmarsat’s ATG plans as inconsistent with EU law and the original S-Band spectrum award; and retender the spectrum.”

Having a screaming competition and throwing the spanner in the administrative works is not uncommon when the stakes are so high, but you do have to feel a bit sorry for Ofcom here. ViaSat seems to be a bit bitter that it is losing out to its rival Inmarsat, and is lashing out at the regulator. And here are two reasons why we feel a bit of sympathy for our friends at Ofcom.

Firstly, Ofcom is simply granting authorization for Inmarsat to operate its EAN. The European Commission is the body which awarded the EAN, Ofcom is just saying you can use it in the UK. ViaSat is currently taking the boresome bureaucrats in Brussels to a European court to block Inmarsat’s planned aeronautical-connectivity service, which is possibly where most of the attention should be directed. We can’t see what Ofcom has done wrong here to be honest.

Secondly, one of the ViaSat arguments is that this usecase was not outlined in the initial auction of the 2 GHz frequency band, and if it was, it might have paid a bit more attention. We think this is a bit unfair, as while we generally do not defend the lethargic legislators, are they supposed to list every possible usecase of these frequency bands? Crack out the crystal ball and consult the stars, this is unrealistic, as you would have to assume there will be there will be no innovation over the next couple of years.

It is also dangerous, as if you strictly limit the usecases if doesn’t offer any incentive or option to innovate and play around with new ideas. Imagine buying a frequency band, but the only ways to monetize it are the ones we have thought of now; you wouldn’t try to think of anything else and innovation would die! Some might be of the opinion that if ViaSat wasn’t able to have the foresight to understand that there might be a few new ideas in the future, it was the right decision to go down the Inmarsat route anyway.

Inmarsat is a UK company while ViaSat is American and seems to be bringing that country’s corporate culture into play. We didn’t get our way, so let’s sue someone. Welcome to the moaners club ViaSat, Three has got a chair waiting for you.


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