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Mexico web auction delayed

Transition from analog to digital dims

MEXICO CITY

As President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto prepares to assume power Saturday, the prospects of what seemed to be the certain entry of two new terrestrial broadcasters in Mexico are now far murkier, as Mexico’s telecom reg Cofetel runs out the clock on a Nov. 30 deadline to pass bandwidth auction rules.

With the delay in the auctions, Mexico’s hopes of a transition from analog to digital by 2015 also dim, as the new webs were an integral part to the switchover plan established in recent years by President Felipe Calderon.

Cofetel raised hopes in early June that it would establish rules to auction a third and possibly fourth terrestrial network in Mexico before the end of Calderon’s term ended, hoping for them by August. Such auctions could finally bring more competition to a market dominated by No. 1 Televisa and No. 2 TV Azteca, who together control about 95% of the over-the-air market — which consumer advocates continually bemoan.

One of the stickiest points with the auctions was whether to allow the top two webs to participate in the auction — a notion most officials seemed to reject publicly. However, in the months that followed even that most basic question seemed unresolved, and as recently as this week, Azteca has intimated it might like to participate in the eventual auctions.

Commissioners conceded that the chances of an agreement on auction rules were all but lost. Several noted that potential bidders were waiting to see who would be taking key posts in the Pena Nieto cabinet.

However, he has so far offered little insight into how he will address media or telecom concerns — which many Mexicans find worrisome in light of pre-election allegations that Televisa was helping to coordinate his win.

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