RAI, Mediaset find way to block new players

ROME — The auction of Italy’s digital TV frequencies is being put on pause as political turbulence and protracted recession block the opening up of the local TV landscape to new players.

The sale is considered key to breaking the dominance of pubcaster RAI and Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset and will also bring an estimated $2 billion into ailing state coffers.

But a snag makes it highly unlikely the auction will take place before national elections on Feb. 24 and 25. And it may never happen if Berlusconi is returned to a prominent political post.

Last month, Italy’s communications authority AgCom approved the sale and requested final greenlight from the European Commission in Brussels, making the auction, which would be open to foreign players, seem imminent.

But since then neighboring countries Malta and Croatia have filed protests, claiming that RAI and Mediaset’s current frequencies interfere with their TV signals.

In response, RAI and Mediaset have asked AgCom to assign them some of the DTT bandwidth to be put up for sale to replace their currently assigned frequencies that are creating static abroad.

The incumbent players’ apparent diversionary tactic to keep their stranglehold on the market is considered a sufficient stumbling block to freeze the auction until after the elections.

Meanwhile, doubts are mounting about the expected sale of Telecom Italia’s La 7 and MTV Italia, due to probable higher than expected fourth-quarter losses of Telecom Italia Media as the country’s economic crisis continues. A Telecom Italia Media board meeting scheduled for Jan. 17 should clarify if the sale will also be put on pause.

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