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Televisa, Carlos Slim May Benefit From Mexico’s Telco Reform Bill

The world’s largest producer of Spanish-language TV content, Televisa, appears to have caught a couple of breaks with the telco reform bill Mexico’s Congress sent to President Enrique Pena Nieto on Wednesday. The bill limits the sanctioning power of the sector’s watchdog agency and sets rules for determining market dominance that could potentially help the massive conglom sidestep burdensome new regulations.

But the other major telco market player, America Movil, the mobile and fixed-line telephony giant run by billionaire Carlos Slim, came out before the final bill even passed the lower house Wednesday morning to say it would be willing to sell off a large portion of its empire to avoid the regulations aimed at companies designated dominant in their sector.

Winning the lion’s share of Mexico’s $32 billion-a-year telecom industry, America Movil controls about 80% of fixed-line market and 70% of the mobile market, while Televisa controls about 70% of the terrestrial broadcast share. Both were determined to be dominant players by the newly created telco reg IFT in March, opening the door to measures like forcing them to share infrastructure at inexpensive rates with competitors and even splitting them up.

Two of the most contentious provisions passed today include a determination of market dominance by sector (TV and telephony) versus by service (pay TV, ISP, over-the-air TV, etc.), which makes it potentially easier for Televisa and America Movil to restructure and sell off enough assets to avoid the heaviest regulations.

Critics are particularly concerned by Televisa’s perceived growing dominance in pay TV, saying the new laws do not do enough to ensure competition in that arena.

The other restricts the power to sanction or prosecute companies to the Interior Secretary, instead of allowing the IFT order action on its own – seen by critics as a win for the nation’s largest media outlets, which also includes No. 2 broadcaster Azteca.

The so-called “secondary legislation” maintains a number of features to the landmark telecommunications reform passed one year ago that are bound to have a long-lasting impact on TV and Internet media in Mexico.

That reform mandates the auction of two new free-to-air and nationwide broadcasters – the first major announcement of bids for those should come this fall. Unfortunately, for foreign media groups, the bidding is limited to companies with 49% of foreign ownership or less, a late edition to last year’s reform that today’s bill cemented.

Televisa has already begun to show major gains in its own bottom line with the introduction of the must-carry, must-offer rules introduced in last year’s reform. The net reported this week a 21% annual jump in profit in the second quarter thanks to the unfettered access to competitors’ feevees in addition to booming growth in its own feevees and telephony thanks to triple-play (TV, phone, Internet) packages.

The bill passed today includes a number of proposals meant to increase Internet penetration in Mexico, including promises like free Wi-Fi in some 250,000 parks and public spaces nationwide, but the timeframe, implementation and quality of the connections all raise questions on how such pie-in-the-sky promises will actually be put into place.

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