Motorola's Phone Satellites Are In A Wobbly Orbit

Motorola Inc. has turned to politics to promote Iridium Inc., its so-far wholly owned subsidiary. Iridium has a $3.1 billion plan to launch 77 low-flying communications satellites that would let people make wireless phone calls between any points on the globe. Iridium has been wooing the International Maritime Satellite Organization (Inmarsat) as a partner, but Inmarsat refuses to commit. In fact, Inmarsat is investigating the possibility of starting its own competing phone service to complement a satellite communication system it already operates for ships and airplanes.

Now, Motorola is lobbying the Bush Administration to help keep Inmarsat from competing with Iridium. The company has written to Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Commerce Secretary Barbara H. Franklin, and others, arguing that Inmarsat, partly owned by foreign telephone monopolies, would compete unfairly: It could subsidize below-cost service or block access to customers, Motorola says. Inmarsat says Motorola's lobbying is just an attempt to coerce it into joining Iridium.

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