Mexican Senate commissions approve telecoms reform bill

MEXICO CITY, April 18 Fri Apr 19, 2013 12:06am EDT

MEXICO CITY, April 18 (Reuters) - Four Senate commissions on Thursday approved a major overhaul of Mexico's telecommunications sector that aims to loosen tycoon Carlos Slim's hold on the phone market and end broadcaster Televisa's dominance of the airwaves.

The bill aims to stir up competition in the industry by allowing more foreign investment, and by giving regulators the power to force dominant players in the market to sell assets. The full Senate is due to vote on the bill Friday.

The reform defines dominant players as those controlling more than half of their respective markets. If declared dominant, companies will not automatically be forced to sell assets if regulators believe they are not impeding competition.

Slim's phone company America Movil controls some 80 percent of the fixed line business and around 70 percent of the mobile market. Televisa has more than 60 percent of the TV market.

The bill unanimously approved by the Senate commissions was largely unchanged from the version passed last month by the lower house of Congress with a notable exception.

The revised document opened up the possibility of allowing companies to suspend, pending appeal, fines or orders issued by the main competition watchdog that they must divest assets.

That could water down the bill put forward by President Enrique Pena Nieto, which sought to put an end to firms using Mexico's byzantine legal system to fight regulatory decisions, which Slim and Televisa have frequently done in the past.

However, the reform may still be modified before the Senate vote.

If passed by the full Senate, the bill returns to the lower house of Congress for approval. Lawmakers from Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party say the bill should be approved next week.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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