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Tonga in Space

Tonga's venture into satellite communications began in 1987. In 1990, Tonga seized a provision of international law and laid claim to the last 16 desirable unoccupied orbital parking spaces for satellites that can link Asia, the Pacific and the United States. Control of the spaces, called "slots" determines who can provide satellite communications to a given part of the world. Tongasat was a front for a slick American operator, Matt C. Nilson.

Tongasat claimed rights to six geostationary satellite spots over Asia. The Tongsat operation, was controlled by Princess Salote Mafile'o Pilolevu Tuita, who remains chairwoman of the company's board. Tongasat rents three satellite slots to Chinese companies.

Satellites are entitled to protection from radio frequency interference by other satellites and earth stations only upon the registration of the location, frequency and use of such satellites with the Radiocommunication Bureau. Registration requires the successful completion of a coordination process with other existing and potential users of locations and frequencies who have commented on the application for registration. The coordination process is carried out in part at the government-to-government level. The coordination process has become increasingly complex and time-consuming in the Asia-Pacific region because a large number of operators have registered new systems operating at high power levels with very broad coverage.

In early 1993, the South Pacific island nation of Tonga accused Indonesia of deliberately jamming TongaSat, see Figure 1. The confrontation started when both parties claimed a geosynchronous satellite communications slot. When Tonga moved its national communications satellite into this disputed spot, Indonesia protested. Tonga soon began experiencing difficulties using their satellite which they attributed to Indonesian jamming. Publicly, Indonesia denied the charges. However, Tongan officials claimed that Indonesia boasted about the jamming during talks that eventually resolved the dispute.

APT and TongaSat entered into a licence agreement on July 8, 2003, under which APT can utilize certain designated C-band, extended C-band and Ku-band frequencies in the orbital slot at 138 degrees East for APSTAR V. APT and TongaSat also entered into an operator agreement on December 19, 2003 for the utilization of certain Ku-band frequencies in the same orbital slot for APSTAR V, such operator agreement was approved by the corresponding administrations of both HKSAR and Tonga on March 15, 2004.

Tongasat is associated with “corruption” and “nepotism” in the upper echelons of society and government as critics, especially long-time MP ‘Akilisi Pohiva, have leveled these charges against the private company. The common narrative pushed around by politicos is, ‘King Tupou IV gave Tonga’s orbital slots, which are national assets, to his daughter Princess Pilolevu to privately use for her own business interests.’

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