Mexico senate gives general approval of telecoms laws

MEXICO CITY, July 4 Fri Jul 4, 2014 11:43pm EDT

MEXICO CITY, July 4 (Reuters) - Mexico's Senate on Friday gave its general approval to legislation needed to implement a reform of the phone and TV markets that seeks to rein in telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim and broadcaster Televisa.

The Senate voted 80 to 37 to approve the bill in its general terms, but opposition senators reserved dozens of articles for further debate that was expected to stretch into the night.

Lawmakers from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) appeared to have enough votes with their allies to overcome objections from opposition senators. Once through the Senate, the bill will pass to the lower house for final approval next week.

The legislation fleshes out a constitutional reform that was proposed by President Enrique Pena Nieto and approved by Congress last year. The law established a new regulator, the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT).

In March, the IFT declared Carlos Slim's America Movil and broadcaster Televisa dominant on the basis of their market share, subjecting them to tougher regulation.

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 as well as being the biggest player in the pay TV market, if its cable and satellite business are combined. Televisa was declared dominant in broadcast TV, but not in the pay TV market.

The so-called secondary legislation was supposed to be approved months ago and clarify the scope of the IFT's new powers to promote competition and regulate the phone, TV and data markets.

Critics of the proposed legislation said lawmakers aligned with Televisa 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.

Sen. Javier Corral, from the conservative National Action Party (PAN) said the law would allow Televisa to continue to gain market share in the pay TV market without facing regulation.

"The only real dilemma is if Televisa will be subjected, once and for all, to competition," he said.

Televisa has been accused by critics of using its media machine to help Pena Nieto win the presidency, although it has denied the accusations.

Both America Movil and Televisa have used legal maneuvers to beat back efforts to regulate them in the past, though the reform aims to curb their ability to do so. (Reporting by Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Kim Coghill)