Mexico’s Senate Approves Telecommunications Competition Bill

Mexico’s Senate, after more than six months of delays and legal challenges, passed legislation that would force America Movil SAB and Grupo Televisa SAB to face penalties as long as they keep serving more than half of the country’s telephone and TV users.

The Senate voted 85 to 12 today after 17 hours of debate to approve specifics of the laws, rejecting most proposed changes to a draft passed earlier by committees. The regulations move to the lower house, with Manlio Fabio Beltrones, head of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in that chamber, predicting today on Twitter they will pass on July 8. If approved, they would go to President Enrique Pena Nieto for his signature.

The legislation implements last year’s constitutional telecommunications overhaul, seeking to generate more competition in an industry controlled by a handful of Mexico’s richest people. America Movil’s Telcel has seven out of 10 mobile-phone users in Mexico, while Televisa draws almost 70 percent of the nation’s broadcast viewers.

The rules would force America Movil, controlled by billionaire Carlos Slim, to eliminate the fees it charges competitors to make calls on its network and to share its extensive network infrastructure with other operators, according to the original draft presented to the Senate. Operators wouldn’t be able to charge domestic long-distance fees starting next year, an amendment to a three-year phase-out period initially proposed last year.

New Channels

Last month, Slim increased his investment in America Movil to 57 percent of the company after acquiring AT&T’s 8.3 percent stake for $5.57 billion.

Under the regulations, Televisa must publish its advertising rates and stand by them regardless of who the customer is. Based on an amendment passed in the Senate, Televisa would also need to provide network access to the winners of the national broadcast-TV auction of two new channels, according to a Senate statement.

Cable operators would have to retransmit the content with the highest audience for free, while satellite operators, such as Dish Mexico, are only obligated to retransmit content that is broadcast in more than 50 percent or more of country, the statement said.

Televisa and TV Azteca have already been required to offer their most popular broadcast channels to other pay-TV operators for free since September.

Service Promotions

Under the legislation, operators would be banned from calling users with service promotions unless they have authorized them to do so. Violating the laws would be punishable by fines of as much as 10 percent of Mexican sales -- or double for repeat offenses.

Also, the bill specifies Slim’s America Movil must comply with its regulatory requirements for 18 months before it can apply for a TV license.

As an alternative though, the law also lets dominant companies propose their own breakups to the telecommunications regulator, IFT, with the goal of reducing their market share below 50 percent. America Movil said last month it has created a committee to evaluate structural options after IFT ruled it’s dominant in the market.

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