Tuesday 29 July 2014

O3b internet spat

As chief executives, entrepreneurs and City dealmakers slope off to the Mediterranean for August
(islands off the Italian coast appear to be particularly in vogue at the moment), I am going to look at a few more "off-beat" stories.

One of the quirkier tales I have encountered recently involves a spat about O3b on You Tube, so I thought it was worth airing on little old Betaville.

For readers unfamiliar with O3b, it is a company that aims to provide internet services to emerging market customers and countries, such as the Cook Islands, via satellites that orbit the earth along the equator.

Last year, Harriet Dennys - the City diarist over at The Daily Telegraph - touched on how the UK Department for International Development's Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund provided $25m in financing to O3b despite the fact its largest shareholders are Luxembourg-based SES SA, Google and Liberty Global, which recently bought a stake in ITV.

This isn't O3b's only brush with controversy, with some satellites delayed and returned back to the manufacturers for repair. Indeed, the company has changed its chief executive five times in the last three years or so.

The latest gaffe emerged after a powerful You Tube video was posted under the banner: "why O3b is doomed". The video claims that the company's satellites are uneconomic, inefficient, far too expensive and pointless. Here is a link to the video posting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB4QrLOHUs8

According to my sources, the posting drew an immediate response from someone called Daniel Shapiro, who said the video was full of lies and asked the poster (a Kevin Maggs, although this may not have been his real name) whether he was being paid to attack O3b.

Mr Shapiro may well have been in the right about Mr Maggs's video but the trouble is another You Tube commenter then claimed he is an international sales executive at O3b. My sources also tell me this You Tube commenter pointed out Mr Shapiro had shown on other internet pages that he has political/religious views that may not necessarily sit comfortably with the satellite company's customer base in some parts of Africa, South Asia and the Far East.

According to Mr Shapiro's Linked In profile and a person familiar with O3b, he is in fact a sales consultant at the satellite company but I have no idea what his actual political/religious views are.

Still, once the You Tube spat was pointed out everything connected with Mr Shapiro and the other poster was removed from video site. I wonder why?

When asked about the affair, a spokesperson for O3b said:

"On July 10, O3b launched 4 satellites from the Space Center in French Guiana. This doubles the size of its constellation, from 4 satellites to 8. This completes the initial constellation allowing O3b to  connect to Telco’s, ISPs, Enterprises and Governments that serve 3 billion people that are unconnected or poorly connected to the internet. A further 4 satellites will be launched in early 2015, in order to meet growing market demand."

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