Gov’t vows to attack signal theft

Proposal a sweeping revision of b'casting law

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s Congress is expected to approve legislation in the next few weeks that would stiffen the criminal penalties for illegal broadcasting and signal theft.

The proposal will be voted on in the lower house in the “next few sessions,” congressman Pablo Fontdevila said during a speech at the annual pay TV confab Jornadas last week. He said it would likely get full congressional approval soon.

The announcement brought a spot of cheer to the more than 120 cable operators, pay TV programmers and hardware companies that gathered to do business and show off their wares in Buenos Aires Oct. 22-25.

The piracy clampdown calls for updating the penal code to make the illegal transmission of radio and TV signals punishable with as much as one year in prison. Offenders would also lose broadcasting privileges for double the time that their pirated signal was in operation.

The government has also proposed a sweeping revision of the broadcasting law.

It aims to spur growth by allowing more foreign investment and authorizing licenses for up to 50 new channels.

However, the proposals have sparked “uncertainty,” says Walter Burzaco, head of the Argentine Cable Television Assn., which hosts Jornadas.

The main concern is that cooperatives, which provide public services like electricity to members, may be eligible for cable licenses under the proposed legislation. This would create unfair competition because cooperatives are exempt from income taxes.

Argentina is already Latin America’s most heavily cabled market, with market penetration in excess of 60%. But the industry is reeling from a three-year recession and a credit crunch that has choked growth and investment.

Beyond the regulatory talk, execs at the four-day confab focused on their “bread-and-butter” basic cable services and the push into the cable-modem business.

The main growth spot in the near term is the Internet, Burzaco said, while telephony and other advanced services are on hold because of the lack of credit and declining consumption.

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