(posted Nov. 15, 9:00 a.m.)- The Sandinista government announced yesterday that it has finalized its contract with Chinese telecom company China Great Wall Industry to start building Central America’s first satellite, which will be ready for launch in 2015.
Orlando Castillo, president of Nicaragua’s telecom regulatory agency (TELCOR), told government media that the Sandinistas managed to haggle the Chinese down to $244 million, payable over 15 years with a three year grace period lasting until the end of the current administration. That means Nicaragua will still be paying for the satellite years after it turns into space junk.
Though other Central American telecom regulators have signed a letter of support for the Nicaraguan satellite, it’s still not entirely clear why the Sandinista government feels they need one. The reasons they have offered publicly are not entirely convincing in a poor country with more pressing needs.
For example, the government has said the satellite will help improve access to rural education and healthcare by allowing for remote teleconferencing. But considering half of Nicaragua’s crumbling public schools don’t even have textbooks, it seems unlikely they will be equipped with satellite uplinks by 2015. (Parenthetically, the Ministry of Education claims the reason why half Nicaraguan classrooms are lacking textbooks is because they don’t have the $6 million needed to print and distribute the books. The good news is that the $56 million in negotiated savings on the Sandinista satellite will provide plenty of extra funds to resolve basic schoolhouse deficiencies).
The argument about healthcare teleconferencing also seems dubious. If doctors are interested in teleconferencing with rural health clinics via satellite, they can always open a free Skype account in the meantime.
Neither of the two cellphone service providers operating in Nicaragua have expressed interested in the satellite. However, the presumptive winner of the Sandinistas’ “bidding process” for a third cellphone provider would be interested.
Chinese telecom giant Xinwei—the only company that is pretending to bid for the Nicaraguan license—signed a Strategic Cooperation Agreement with China Great Wall Industry last May to promote joint ventures to expand their telecommunications and satellite markets. Xinwei is also managing Nicaragua’s canal project.
It fair to say, as the company’s chairman already stated, “Xinwei is creating history! Xinwei will become a legend!”