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Rene Anselmo

In 1988, an explosion in French Guiana launched a new career for Rene Anselmo. The explosion could also have buried …

In 1988, an explosion in French Guiana launched a new career for Rene Anselmo. The explosion could also have buried that career, but instead, it hurled PAS-1 into orbit 22,000 miles above the equator. Anselmo suddenly possessed the world’s first privately owned communications satellite. PAS-1 began making money almost immediately, but last year, with the Gulf War boosting demand, earnings soared.

According to Anselmo, his personally held company, Alpha Lyracom Space Communications, had 1991 revenues of almost $30 million, with a profit before taxes of $12 million. He will need a lot more money to finance the expansion of Greenwich, CT-based Alpha Lyracomhe’s still the only entrepreneur with a satellite, but other private satellite companies like Orion and Columbia now also plan launches. However, Anselmo’s not worried about them-his bete noire is called Comsat/Intelsat.

The official U.S. member of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization

(Intelsat) is the Communications Satellite Corporation (Comsat). By federal law, the quasigovernmental Comsat has a monopoly on international satellite connections to the U.S. public switched network (PSN), over which the vast majority of this nation’s long distance calls are made.

The federal government has recently opened some of the PSN, and by 1997, the whole network should be free. According to its critics, Comsat’s monopoly has mainly resulted in poor service and high prices. None of these critics is as outspoken as Anselmo.

“I would like to collapse the whole state-owned system of satellites,” he says.

Last year Anselmo created a set of anti-Comsat/Intelsat cartoon ads addressed to President Bush. In the pictures such characters as “My Dog Spot” and “Cousin Barfy” emphasized their remarks by urinating or vomiting. President Bush did not respond, but Anselmo got nationwide press attention, especially after The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal refused to run the ads.

Anselmo, 65, has always been something of a maverick: A former chairman of the FCC has called him “the Indiana Jones of the communication business.” Raised in Quincy, MA, he fought in the South Pacific in World War II and studied in the Great Books program at the University of Chicago. In 1954, he was in Mexico, selling TV programs for Televisa, then owned by the father of his friend Emilio Azcarraga. By 1963, Anselmo was in New York, managing Televisa’s American interests. Twenty-three tumultuous years later, after a final clash with the younger Azcarraga (who had inherited Televisa) and collisions with stockholders, federal courts, and the FCC, Anselmo resigned-with $100 million.

Within two years, Anselmo had staked 40 percent of that $100 million on PAS-1. His own money? Anselmo knew what he was doing, though many thought otherwise, especially when it was learned that the satellite launch was only half-insured. Says Anselmo, “Despite my reputation, I’m not a gambler.”

He now hopes to launch three new satellites beginning in 1994, broadening Alpha Lyra-corn’s range from Europe and the Western Hemisphere to Africa and Asia. Estimated cost: $600 million. “It was apparent from the very beginning that we couldn’t have just one satellite,” says Anselmo. “We had to expand. I wish we could do it much faster.” Determined to retain at least 51 percent ownership, Anselmo is now lining up outside investors for those new satellite launches.

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