By Navarro, Carlos
SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico
After years of speculation and wishful thinking, Mexico has taken a decisive step to allow the creation of additional television networks. In early June, the Comisin Federal de Telecomunicaciones (COFETEL) announced guidelines to auction off television frequencies. The communications regulator did not give a specific timetable to open up the process, but an industry source said the auction could begin in six months to a year.
The creation of a third and fourth network to challenge the dominance of Grupo Televisa and Grupo Azteca had long been the subject of speculation. The two media giants control about 95% of the content in Mexican television and have staunchly resisted efforts to create competition (SourceMex, Jan. 10, 2007). A concrete proposal to develop a third network surfaced in 2011, but the plan was short on specifics (SourceMex, March 2, 2011).
Facing pressure from civil society and opposition parties that have long denounced the corporate media, COFETEL finally decided to take a more serious look at the proposals to expand the television broadcast market. Earlier this year, COFETEL president Mony de Swaan proposed opening new television frequencies. But at that time, commissioners deferred any decision, citing the need to acquire more information.
In May of this year, the commission finally released a more complete plan, which it said was aimed at promoting content diversity, boosting competition, and giving viewers information and entertainment alternatives. A draft proposal of the plan indicates that COFETEL might auction off frequencies for two networks that would cover 153 communities. This would expand coverage to about 93% of the population, said Milenio.com.
Auction might not start for at least six months
Even with the decision to move forward, the process probably will not begin for some time. An industry source estimated that it could be another six months to a year before the actual auction takes place.
An important development is that the broadcast industry, with the support of broadcast giants Televisa and TV Azteca, has endorsed the proposal. "We propose that President [Felipe] Caldern support the tender of a third national channel of broadcast television, which surely would provide fresh air for our public life and would allow the opening of greater means of freedom of expression for citizens," said Alejandro Puente, president of the Camara Nacional de la Industria de Telecomunicaciones por Cable (CANITEC).
But some supporters of the television-opening process are urging COFETEL to take advantage of the opportunity to democratize the air waves. A study by the Centro de Investigacin y Docencia Econmicas (CIDE) pointed out that Mexico is in a good position "to use digital television to expand the plurality of information and content and to develop a more efficient market for publicity. …