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UK government enters bidding war for stake in OneWeb

UK government enters bidding war for stake in OneWeb

The British government is expected to bid £500 million to buy a stake in OneWeb, which filed for bankruptcy in March.

Having left the EU, the UK forfeited eligibility for membership in Galileo, an innovative global navigation satellite system (GNSS) which would allow for a superior alternative to American GPS. A sovereign satellite system was discussed as an alternative predicted to have cost up to £5bn, although with a hand in OneWeb, GNSS independence could be achieved for a lot less.

If successful, the UK expects a 20 percent share of the company as part of a private sector consortium, which is yet to be formally accepted. Francis Elliott, political editor of The Times, has written: “Although the government technically is making a bid for the stake, British officials said the transaction was at ‘a very advanced stage’.” Elliott did not name the officials. At present the potential bidders for the other 80 percent of OneWeb are not yet known, although several Chinese firms appear to be interested.

However, the bid could see some friction as a result of the US Department of Justice (DoJ) which has expressed concerns over OneWeb’s sale to a non-US entity. Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York, has filed a notice with the district’s bankruptcy court reminding federal regulators could block any transaction if “it raises national security concerns.”

Though OneWeb is currently owned by non-US companies including SoftBank, Airbus, Virgin Group and Bharti Airtel, and its satellite license is from the UK, there are those in the US unwilling to lose the company.

OneWeb has so far launched 74 of its planned 650 satellites to support a system of global broadband via LEO, originally thought to have been orbited by the end of 2021.