Mexican Congress eyes quick telecoms laws approval

MEXICO CITY, July 2 Wed Jul 2, 2014 6:58pm EDT

MEXICO CITY, July 2 (Reuters) - Mexico's Senate on Friday aims to pass long-delayed legislation setting out the fine print of a major reform of the phone and TV markets that seeks to curb the power of multibillionaire Carlos Slim and broadcaster Televisa.

On Tuesday, the Senate presented a revised draft of the so-called secondary laws needed to implement President Enrique Pena Nieto's 2013 overhaul of the telecoms and broadcasting sectors, where immense powers are concentrated in few hands.

Senate committees are due to debate the revised telecoms bill later on Wednesday and lawmakers from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) said they expected it to pass to the lower house for final approval next week.

That would open the door for Congress to pass separate secondary legislation on Pena Nieto's most ambitious reform, the opening of Mexico's oil and gas industry to private investment after a 75-year state monopoly.

Slim's phone giant America Movil controls about 70 percent of Mexico's mobile market and 80 percent of the fixed line business. Televisa, the world's biggest provider of Spanish-language content, has over 60 percent of the free-to-air TV market.

Javier Lozano, head of the Senate communications committee and member of the opposition conservative National Action Party (PAN), said he expected the upper house to vote on the secondary laws on Friday, pushing them to the lower house.

Once there, quick approval was planned, said Eligio Gonzalez, a PRI member of the lower house communications committee.

"It could be voted on the floor (of the lower house) on Tuesday," Gonzalez said.

Nevertheless, some opposition lawmakers are concerned the telecoms laws still risk being watered down.

"With our legal system in Mexico and the power these monopolies have, they've taken advantage of every loophole to mount legal defenses," said Francisco Burquez, a PAN senator who fears the laws may be changed to favor the dominant companies.

Pena Nieto's reform last September created a new regulator, the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT), which declared America Movil and Televisa dominant on the basis of their market share, subjecting them to tougher regulation.

However, because the secondary telecoms laws have been delayed more than six months, the regulations setting out the IFT's precise remit have not yet been finalized. Hence changes to the secondary laws could interfere with its faculties.

Critics of the laws said lawmakers aligned with Televisa in particular are trying to make dominance dependent on a firm's market share in the whole of the telecoms or broadcasting sector rather than particular services, such as pay TV.

That, they say, could make it easier for companies to evade tougher regulation. Both America Movil and Televisa have used legal maneuvers to beat back efforts to regulate them in the past, though the reform reduces their ability to do so. (Reporting by Dave Graham; editing by Andrew Hay)

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