An FCC for Italy

Senate OKs regs, extends TV licenses

MILAN — A crucial bill to reform Italy’s television and telecommunications sectors passed its first hurdle in Parliament on Wednesday night, when the Senate approved all its items. The bill will create a regulator for the TV and telecom industries, similar to the FCC in the U.S., and will extend until the end of July all TV broadcasting licenses, which would have expired May 31.

The new media authority will then decide when to impose the new antitrust regulations. In particular it will decide when Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset and pubcaster RAI will have to curb their national terrestrial TV networks from three to two, moving their third network onto satellite. Both Mediaset and RAI will therefore be allowed to keep three networks each and maintain their virtual TV duopoly until the “satellite market is grown up and ready,” political sources said. In a nutshell, nothing will probably change in Italy’s TV industry for many months ahead.

The approval by the Senate, which is expected to pass the whole draft today, follows nine months of exhausting negotiations between the center-left government and the right-wing opposition led by Silvio Berlusconi, anxious to protect his media empire. A third, minor party involved in discussions was the Northern League, an independent force that wants more autonomy for TV services in North Italy.

The bill is now expected to be considered by the Lower House in the next few weeks. The TV-telecom bill also includes an extension for pay TV group Telepiu.

According to current laws, the Milan-based network controlled by Canal Plus, Kirch and Fininvest should abandon terrestrial broadcasting by August 1997 and use only satellite or cable.

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