Iranian in a jam over satellite blocking

Iranian in a jam over satellite blocking
By Peter J Brown

The Islamic Republic of Iran is both a member of the United Nations and a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the UN that oversees the global satellite industry. The ITU defines and adopts technical standards for the radio-frequency spectrum and regulates its worldwide use.

In the ITU’s constitution, Article 45 – «Harmful Interference» – states clearly that, among other things, «the Member States recognize the necessity of taking all practicable steps to prevent the operation of electrical apparatus and installations of all kinds from causing harmful interference to the radio services or communications mentioned in No 197 above.» [1]

In other words, if you jam someone else’s satellite transmissions – and especially if you do so deliberately – you are breaking the ITU’s rules and damaging the satellite industry as a whole.

For weeks, a trio of global broadcasters – the BBC, Deutsche Welle (DW) and Voice of America (VoA) – have been trying to persuade Iran that it needs to cease immediately its deliberate jamming of satellite transmissions that carry their broadcasts in Iran. Paris-based Eutelsat is now unable to conduct normal and licensed satellite operations that enable it to deliver these services in Iran using its Hotbird satellite.

Iran’s actions are harmful to Eutelsat’s business, and over time can contribute to the weakening of other satellite operators as the perception that violations of ITU rules and regulations will not result in any penalty or enforcement action gains ground.

«Several complaints have been lodged by Eutelsat over the last 10 months with the relevant French and international telecommunications regulatory authorities to denounce these deliberate jamming operations,» Eutelsat stated in a mid-March press release. It referred to two complaints being filed since May 2009 involving, first, France’s Agence Nationale des Frequences Francaise (ANFR) and later the ITU’s Radio Regulations Board (ITU-R). [2]

In February, BBC World Service director Peter Horrocks, DW director Erik Bettermann and VoA director Dan Austin issued a joint statement in which they condemned any jamming of their channels and called on «satellite operators and those who regulate them to take urgent action to put pressure on Iran to stop this activity». [3]

There is someone on the Iranian space team who must be feeling increasingly uncomfortable as this situation drags on. He is Ahmad Talebzadeh, head of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA), which is preparing to launch three satellites, named Tolou, Mesbah-2 and Navid.

Talebzadeh finds himself in a very awkward position as Iran decides to go on ignoring the rising tide of protests that are emanating from Europe and the US over Iran’s practice of jamming satellite broadcasts. This activity is possibly placing Talebzadeh’s successful climb up the career ladder – both at home and abroad – in jeopardy.

He did not respond to e-mails from Asia Times Online.

Besides serving as ISA chief, Talebzadeh is a very visible figure in the global satellite arena. He serves as the current chair of the UN legal sub-committee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). He is also in charge of the Department of External Relations and Legal Affairs for the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO), which is headquartered in Beijing.

Pay close attention to «legal» in both of his titles here.

It cannot be easy for Talebzadeh, who attended the University of Tennessee, to stand today on the floor of a UN forum in Geneva and speak for a collective recognition of the need for the rule of law in space when back in Tehran leaders of his own country are flagrantly disregarding the ITU’s international rules and regulations.

The fact that Talebzadeh is a deputy minister in Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology only makes this situation more difficult to accept.

As a senior UN COPUOS and APSCO satellite official with an oversight role in examining, if not crafting, legal policies that impact the space activities of all nations, Talebzadeh is quite aware of the ITU’s rules, regulations and proceedings. [6]

In a speech presented last June in Geneva at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research’s Space Security 2009 conference, ITU secretary general Hamadoun Toure reminded his audience of the important role that all satellites play.

«Satellites cannot easily share exactly the same orbital position, nor can they receive and transmit their images, data or voice signals on exactly the same frequency as another neighboring system, without intensive cooperation and discussion, to avoid the risk of interference,» said Toure. «Our work focuses on ensuring the essential services delivered over satellite systems can function as they should, without risk of what we call ‹harmful interference›. In the radio-communication world, this term refers to interference between two operating radio frequencies that seriously degrades, obstructs or repeatedly interrupts either or both services.»

Toure emphasized that «intentional interference is a rare thing».

«Common sense normally wins through. Countries work together to resolve the issue quickly, not necessarily because of goodwill, but simply because it is in their mutual interest to find a solution.» [4]

Perhaps Talebzadeh heard this speech. Regardless, Talebzadeh is no doubt aware of the important satellite-related work done by the World Broadcasting Unions – International Satellite Operations Group (WBU-ISOG). Its headquarters are also in Geneva.

This group received an award last month along with the Satellite Users Interference Reduction Group for their important work related to ending all forms of satellite interference – deliberate or otherwise. The award was given to the WBU-ISOG by the Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI), and Talebzadeh may well be an SSPI member, too.

At the WBU-ISOG forum last December in Geneva, ongoing interference problems for satellite operators was the hottest topic of discussion. If Talebzadeh had attended, he might have instantly seen how upset satellite operators are, because this is a problem that has yet to be resolved.

It is not that time is running out for Talebzadeh and Iran, but the tone of the discussion is changing fast. Iran is watching as the allegations of satellite jamming are moving out of the ITU’s domain and up to the ministry level via a recent letter sent by the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom to the European Union. (5)

Talebzadeh can simply ignore what is in motion, but sooner or later, people are going to start wondering why a senior Iranian government official is being allowed to chair such an important UN satellite-oriented legal subcommittee at a time when Iran seems so intent on thumbing its nose at the ITU and ultimately at the UN itself.

(Asia Times Online)


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