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Italo gov’t factions near accord on telecom bill

MILAN — The Italian center-left government and the right-wing opposition led by Silvio Berlusconi are finally close to a compromise on the TV-telecom bill, several sources in parliament said.

The agreement is expected to be signed soon. It will create a regulator for the television and telecommunications industries similar to the FCC in the U.S.

Even more importantly, it is widely expected to extend current broadcasting licenses, allowing Berlusconi’s media group Fininvest to keep its three terrestrial national networks until 1998 or even 1999.

According to current regs, Fininvest’s TV unit Mediaset should get rid of one station, or transform it into a fee-based satellite or cable service, by next summer.

Mediaset has been lobbying for a wider extension, until 2001, but will welcome a compromise until 1999, several sources said.

“We are very near to an agreement, but the last mile is always the most difficult,” posts and telecommunications ministry undersecretary Vincenzo Vita said.

The TV and telecom bill will probably also include an extension for pay TV group Telepiu. According to current laws, the Milan-based network controlled by Canal Plus, Kirch and Fininvest must abandon terrestrial broadcasting by August 1997 and use only satellite or cable.

Finally, the reform bill is expected to regulate RAI, compelling the pubcaster to transform its third terrestrial channel into a pure public service channel with no ads.

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