Secondary laws for Mexico telecoms overhaul to be delayed -lawmakers

Reuters

By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Legislation to implement amajor overhaul of Mexico's telecommunications industry will notbe approved until early next year, pushing back a deadline setfor December, two senior lawmakers said on Saturday.

The secondary laws set out the fine print for a telecomsreform promulgated in June by President Enrique Pena Nieto whichgives regulators sweeping powers to rein in billionaire CarlosSlim's telecoms giant America Movil and dominantbroadcaster Televisa.

The bill raised hopes Pena Nieto was serious about breakingthe hold a select few have on much of the economy, but a pile-upof pending bills in Congress has made the Dec. 9 deadline forthe secondary telecoms legislation increasingly unlikely.

Federico Gonzalez Luna, a congressman who heads the radioand television committee in the lower house, told Reuters thatto ensure the secondary laws were properly drawn up, they wouldnow have to wait until 2014.

"There's no way of doing them earlier," said Gonzalez Luna,a member of the Green Party, allies of Pena Nieto'sInstitutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). "The plan is to getthem done as quickly as possible, but to do them well."

Efforts would focus on getting the laws passed in the nextperiod of Congress beginning in February, he added.

A delay in the secondary laws could give America Movil andTelevisa more time to prepare their defense against steps by thenew regulator to reduce their dominant positions in Mexico.

For now, Congress is scrambling to pass an energy bill putforward by the president in August to open up thestate-controlled oil and gas industry to more privateinvestment.

Fraught with political risks in a country where the 1938nationalization of the oil industry was a defining moment, theenergy bill is a central plank of Pena Nieto's economic agenda.

But the energy reform has been bogged down in the Senate,and the government is insistent it should pass this year.

To do that, the PRI must first push through an electoralreform to win the support of opposition conservatives it isbanking on to provide votes for the new energy law.

The electoral reform is moving slowly in the Senate and PRIparty chairman Cesar Camacho said on Friday a plan was underconsideration to prolong Congress to make sure the energy billis signed off by lawmakers this year.

ENERGY LAW BY CHRISTMAS?

Hector Gutierrez de la Garza, a PRI lawmaker who heads thecommunications committee in the lower house, said Congress wouldaim to approve the secondary telecoms laws early in 2014.

"It needs to be in February because in March there's adeadline for the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT)to issue various resolutions," he told Reuters, referring to thenew telecoms regulator created by the reform.

There would be no penalty for missing the Dec. 9 deadlinebecause a transitory article in Pena Nieto's reform meant thatcurrent telecoms laws would remain in effect while Congressfinalized the secondary legislation, he added.

Pena Nieto's reform gives the IFT the power to break updominant telecoms companies, and the secondary legislation willset out conditions for the use of that option.

Alejandra Barrales, a member of the opposition leftist Partyof the Democratic Revolution who heads the radio and televisioncommittee in the Senate, said she was opposed to delaying theapproval of the secondary laws.

Because party leaders had so far not formally declared thelaws would be delayed until next year, she would consider thatDec. 9 remained a possibility, she told Reuters.

Still, pushing them back would give Congress more space topass the energy bill, said Eligio Gonzalez of the PRI, a seniormember of the lower house communications committee.

"Our thinking is that the Senate will be approving theenergy reform around (December) the 14th. And for us to bemeeting in an extraordinary session around the 19th-20th to passit in the days before Christmas," he said.

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