Space Frontier Foundation Honors PanAmSat's Rene Anselmo

Charles Miller and Martine Rothblatt
Charles Miller and Martine Rothblatt
July 28, 2013
Photo credit: www.samsphotography.net

NewSpace Award Ceremony Remarks

As given by Charles E. Miller on July 28, 2013

It is my privilege tonight to give the Pioneer of NewSpace award.

Tonight we join together to honor and celebrate the life of the late Rene Anselmo.

Rene was a very successful American television entrepreneur with a large business in Spanish language television. Rene saw a big opportunity to offer Spanish language television and video to international customers in South America. To do this, he had to go through Intelsat, which had a government-sponsored monopoly on international satellite services. If you had a deal with CNN to offer Spanish language cable news services across all of South America, and were convinced this was the future, you still had to go through Intelsat. When Intelsat turned down Anselmo's proposal to transmit "entertainment TV" to South America, Anselmo could have given up, but it was not in his nature. He refused to take "No" for an answer. Rene formed his own satellite company (Panamsat), and in 1984 he applied to the FCC to launch a satellite into orbit.

While Intelsat was armed with top lobbyists, Anselmo battled with his own wits, sending members of Congress and others letters, many times featuring his dog Spot. Then a 1985 FCC ruling authorized private satellites, and Anselmo had a chance to be on his way.

Anselmo could not raise any capital for his venture. As a result, he bet his entire personal fortune of almost $100 Million on Panamsat, and even then he still had to cut corners and take some extraordinary risks. He got a great deal on a launch by agreeing to be a customer for the Ariane 4 on its maiden launch. This was a huge risk for the maiden voyage of a brand new launch vehicle from a company that had four launch failures since 1981. Anselmo then purchased an $80 million satellite for $45 million from RCA Astro Space Electronics (now Lockheed Martin Commercial Space) after another customer cancelled their order. He launched the satellite with only a fraction of the insurance needed to launch again. He launched the satellite without frequency (or "landing") rights to operate in many of his target countries. Fortunately, the launch was a success, the satellite worked, and hold out countries very quickly began providing him with necessary landing rights.

This changed everything.

Almost immediately, the growth rate of the commercial communication accelerated. Major national satellite operators (Eutelsat, Americom) expanded into international markets, and many satellite manufacturers also invested in satellite operators (e.g., Hughes Communications created Hughes Electronics in direct competition with its good customers Panamsat and Intelsat). CNN International and many other entertainment services sprang into existence. Digital satellite radio and satellite television, satellite by internet, satellite phone, pagers, asset tracking and remote payment systems all became hot new growth markets in the 1990s. Many tens of billions of dollars of private capital were invested in new companies and new services. This would not have happened in a global market dominated by one international monopoly.

Today, the commercial space telecommunications market is a $170 Billion industry.

Rene passed away on September 20, 1995.

But we owe our deepest gratitude to Rene Anselmo.

We owe it to the world to not forget the mistakes our nation made in setting up a government-sponsored monopoly. We owe it to the world to not forget Rene's life, his commitment, and his contribution to the future of humanity.

Tonight, to accept the Pioneer of NewSpace award on Rene's behalf, we have Dr. Martine Rothblatt. Dr. Rothblatt was there at the beginning, and we have asked her to share some of the lesser-known and untold stories about Rene.

Dr. Rothblatt was a member of the L5 Society and OASIS, a chapter of the L5 Society in southern CA. She was pursuing her MBA at UCLA, and was required to write a thesis as part of her coursework. Dr. Rothblatt approached a local company called Hughes, and proposed using a brand new technology, a spot beam to broadcast programming to south America. She called the concept "Panamsat". Now, this was just an idea, or concept, but sometimes luck plays a great role in putting together the right people at the right time. Which is exactly why we hold the NewSpace conference in Silicon Valley.

A little bit later, Martine was working for a telecommunications law firm in Washington, DC, where she ran into Rene. Martine proposed to Rene that he start his own satellite company.

The rest is history.

Rene Anselmo and Martine Rothblatt



In late 1982 Martine Rothblatt was both studying astronomy in the graduate program at the University of Maryland, College Park, and practicing space communications law as a sole practitioner in Washington, DC. A year earlier, as a first-year lawyer at Covington & Burling, she introduced herself to Rene Anselmo at a satellite industry conference at the L'Enfant Plaza hotel. She explained briefly that she had recently completed an MBA Thesis at UCLA's Graduate School of Management, called "PanAmSat", on the feasibility of non-government international satellite communications systems, and presented it to Hughes Satellite Communications, Inc., but they were not interested. She said that it would be great if Rene Anselmo implemented it in lieu of renting time off of the government-controlled satellites of Intelsat for his Spanish International Network programming. He thought the idea was interesting.

Rene and Martine met again when Rene's communications lawyer, Norm Levinson, referred him to Martine for assistance with his satellite communications problems. Martine's office was down the hallway from Norm's office, at 22nd & K Streets, so the meeting was easily arranged. Martine explained in much greater detail this time the PanAmSat business plan. Martine assured Rene that she could write an FCC application and petition for rulemaking that would get PanAmSat approved - notwithstanding the prevailing view that non-government international satellites were a violation of the Intelsat Treaty and otherwise illegal under the FCC's rules.

Rene then authorized, through Norm Leventhal, for Martine to prepare all of the regulatory filings and a business plan for PanAmSat. Martine adapted her MBA thesis for the business plan, appending its marketing plan to the FCC filing to demonstrate that PanAmSat would not cause 'significant economic harm' to Intelsat. This was necessary to obtain approval under the Intelsat Agreement. Martine also introduced Rene to the people at RCA Astro-Electronics and at Arianespace, who offered PanAmSat a cut-rate satellite and launch respectively. Rene bet all the money he had on the success of the PanAmSat venture, and lobbied extensively for its approval at the FCC. Thanks to Rene's persistence, the idea was eventually approved and grew into the world's largest satellite communications system.
Dr. Rothblatt, Cofounder of the Terasem Movement family of not-for-profit organizations, proudly displays Rene Anselmo's Pioneer of Newspace Award at the Space Coast, Florida office of Terasem Movement, Inc. Terasem is open to the public for anyone who wishes to visit Mr. Anselmo's prestigious award.

See The 2013 NewSpace The Space Frontier Foundation Awards