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Fox signs controversial media regs

Law provides framework for digital transition

Mexican President Vicente Fox has rushed to sign a controversial media and telco bill into law despite protests that the legislation would benefit dominant TV company Televisa and its smaller rival TV Azteca.

The law reforms the system for awarding broadcasting concessions and provides a framework for the transition to digital broadcasts. Crucially, it hands over digital spectrum to Televisa and TV Azteca for free, while new players will have to pay for a license.

While the Fox administration usually takes up to two months to sign and publish bills approved by Congress, the media and telco law was published April 11, only 12 days after the Senate approved it.

Under the law, a regulatory commission will now auction broadcasting licenses, which were previously awarded directly by the head of Mexico’s Communications & Transport Ministry, a cabinet post under orders from the president.

Proponents say it will make the process more transparent.

Lawmakers and critics opposed to the bill decried the speed with which the bill was signed into law, saying it showed Fox was on the side of the dominant broadcasters.

A group of senators and lower house lawmakers say they have enough signatures to challenge the law before the Supreme Court on the grounds that it promotes monopolies.

Critics also said an error in the published law could be used to block Fox from naming the five new commissioners that will head the nation’s telco regulator (Cofetel), which will auction digital spectrum.

Three of the four current commissioners at Cofetel resigned this week in protest over the new law.