Mexico moves up digital switchover to 2015

Supreme Court vote not enough to halt move

Mexico is moving up its terrestrial analog-to-digital switchover date, from 2021 to 2015, after a vote Tuesday in Mexico’s Supreme Court failed to derail the initiative.

President Felipe Calderon first issued the decree to move the date during his annual national address, akin to the U.S. State of the Union address, on Sept. 2, 2010, but accelerating the switchover meant confronting a wall of political and legal obstacles.

The president and other advocates are promoting the move as a way to level the over-the-air playing field dominated by Mexico’s top two broadcasters, Televisa and Azteca, which together have 95% market share.

Calderon’s decree also stated that digital converter boxes would be imported and sold at a “fair” price to aid the switchover.

The response from lawmakers was largely negative. The Senate declared the decree unconstitutional, kicking the ruling up to the high court, saying that only the Federal Telecommunications Commission (Cofetel) could make such a decision.

However, there have been widespread accusations that Cofetel is heavily influenced by Televisa and Azteca, which face real competition stemming from certain aspects of the new technology, particularly digital multiplexing, which could vastly expand the number of over-the-air channels.

On Monday, the high court categorized the decree as an executive rule that can be invalidated only if at least eight of 12 judges vote against it. But only seven judges voted against it on Tuesday.