Mexican senate OKs media reforms

New reforms allow concession holders to roll out digital services sans fees

In the witching hour Friday, Mexico’s Senate approved reforms to media laws despite protests that it would strengthen Mexico’s dominant broadcasters at the expense of the public interest.

Lawmakers approved without any changes a bill championed by the nation’s largest broadcaster Televisa and approved unanimously in the lower house in early December.

The reforms allow existing concession holders, including Televisa and No. 2 net TV Azteca, to roll out digital channels and services without having to pay fees to the government.

It also sets up an independent regulator and establishes a transparent auction to bid for new concessions.

Antitrust and telco regulators warned that the bill would lead to further concentration in Mexico’s less-than competitive broadcast market, where Televisa draws over two-thirds of viewers to its four stations.

President Vicente Fox has not yet said whether he will publish or veto the reform.

During the 13-hour debate, only a handful of lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill, but a consistent block shut down dissenters through dozens of motions to modify particular articles.

Televisa is investing $52 million this year to finish upgrading its Cablevision cable network to provide telephony, Internet and TV. Mexico’s dominant telco Telmex has also invested around $150 million in its network.