The explanations provided by Chunghwa Telecom (CHT) for its decision not to renew the contract of Falun Gong-sponsored New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV) contradict information uncovered by the Taipei Times and raise questions about possible pressure from the Chinese or Taiwanese authorities.
Since 1998, CHT has relied on the ST-1 satellite to transmit TV signals to Taiwanese subscribers. With the satellite scheduled to cease operations in August, on Sept. 18, 2008, Chunghwa Telecom Singapore, a fully owned subsidiary of CHT, formed a joint venture with Singapore Telecommunications Ltd (SingTel) to build a new satellite, the ST-2. Information released by CHT showed that its subsidiary would take about a 38 percent stake in the joint venture, with SingTel taking the remaining 62 percent. CHT and SingTel also jointly operate ST-1.
In a press release dated April 5, SingTel announced that the assembly, integration and testing of ST-2 had been completed and that the satellite was being shipped to its launching site, where it is to be launched in the middle of this month.
Responding to criticism over the decision not to renew NTDTV’s contract, meaning its broadcasts will cease in August, CHT said the ST-2 had fewer transponders and therefore had lower bandwidth to ensure a quality service.
Industry sources said ST-1 carries 16 high-power Ku-band transponders and 14 medium-power C-band transponders.
However, CHT’s explanation contradicts what its partner said on April 5.
Bill Chang, executive vice president of the business group at SingTel, said at the time: “With 20 percent more transponder capacity and a wider coverage footprint than ST-1, ST-2 will help increase our capacity to meet growing customer demand for fixed and mobile satellite services in the broadcast, maritime and oil and gas industries.”
A Singaporean source confirmed to the Taipei Times yesterday that while ST-2 has more transponders, CHT’s share in the satellite has shrunk, meaning it may have been allocated less bandwidth than on ST-1.
Although this could explain why CHT will be unable to assign as many stations as it did before, it does not explain the decision to specifically select NTDTV to be dropped.
One possible explanation could be the stronger signal offered by ST-2. Both CHT and SingTel have said ST-2 will have higher transmitting power than ST-1. The wide-ranging footprint of C-band and Ku-band coverage will cover the Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
“ST-2 is almost twice as powerful as our first satellite, which means our customers’ antennas don’t have to work as hard to pick up the signals,” Chang said.
Those comments may have caught Beijing’s attention.
Beijing considers Falun Gong a cult and has made it an illegal entity in China. It has successfully blocked — and sometimes intimidated other countries into doing so — broadcasts from NTDTV.
Although satellites like ST-1 and ST-2 do not service the Chinese market, a technique known as “signal hacking” reportedly allows direct access to channels and programs on any satellite that services the Asia-Pacific region.
In October 2009, Taiwanese lawmakers called for an investigation into ST-1 signal interruptions that began on Sept. 17 and peaked on Oct. 1, when the People’s Republic of China was celebrating its 60th anniversary. On Double Ten Day, NTDTV’s broadcasts were effectively taken off the air for the entire day.