Trump administration clears UK Government's OneWeb satellite rescue deal

James Titcomb
·2-min read
oneweb
oneweb

The Trump administration has given the green light to the British Government’s takeover of the satellite company OneWeb, with the $1bn (£770m) rescue securing a crucial national security clearance before the US election.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which vets overseas takeovers of US companies, has cleared OneWeb’s sale to a joint venture led by the UK Government and India’s Bharti Global. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates wireless spectrum in the US, has also approved the deal.

The Government and Bharti are both putting $500m into OneWeb, which aims to beam internet signals from a constellation of hundreds of satellites.  They are taking a 45pc stake each in the Anglo-American company, which filed for bankruptcy in March.

Telegraph Tech 100 2020: see the full list
Telegraph Tech 100 2020: see the full list

An extended review of the deal could have meant the rescue being delayed if Mr Trump is defeated by Joe Biden on Tuesday, potentially waiting until a new administration is installed in January.

The Chinese government backed out of a bid for OneWeb in the summer after it became clear that CFIUS would become involved in the deal.  Mr Trump has personally used the committee’s power to block Chinese investments in the US on national security grounds, and the committee is currently scrutinising a proposed investment in the Chinese app TikTok by US companies Oracle and Walmart.

Approval means the deal is set to proceed within days, with a US judge now set to rubber stamp the sale before it is completed.  A spokesperson for the company confirmed that CFIUS and the FCC had completed their inquiries and that the sale awaits final approval.

Although the Government had been confident of securing national security approval, the US had applied strict controls on OneWeb’s technology in the past.  SoftBank, the Japanese company that was OneWeb’s biggest shareholder, was barred from accessing OneWeb’s core technology after investing in 2016, and OneWeb was forced to undergo annual audits to confirm it was complying with a national security agreement.

The Government is investing in OneWeb in an attempt to boost broadband coverage as well as potentially underpin a British satellite navigation system, although experts have questioned whether the company’s low-earth orbit satellites are capable of the task.