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Mexican Transition Begins

Publishing the List Is the First Step Necessary for Stations to Transition From AM to FM

MEXICO CITY Under intense scrutiny, the Comisión Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Cofetel) presented the first listing of regions where there is sufficient spectrum to allow AM stations to shift to FM.

The Region I list, published in the ‘Diario Oficial de la Federación’ last October, fulfils an agreement which sets the requirements for issuing authorized frequencies to AM stations to optimize the use of the public airwaves in the transition to digital radio.

The agreement gave Cofetel 15 days to determine the available frequencies in the states of Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo.

First step

Cities included in this Region I tier include Becal, Campeche, Ciudad del Carmen, Francisco Escárcega, Palizada, Xpujil and Tenabo in Campeche; Cancún, Chetumal and Felipe Carrillo Puerto in Quintana Roo; Cárdenas, Comalcalco, Cunduacán, Macuspana, Tenosique and Villahermosa in Tabasco; and Mérida, Peto, Tizimín and Valladolid in Yucatán.

Publishing the list is the first step necessary for stations to transition from AM to FM. Next, AM operators must petition Cofetel for an FM frequency.

From the time of publication, licensees have six days to make their application. They also need a favorable statement from the federal competition authorities and other government officials.

Upon receipt of the documents and opinions, Coftel will analyze the application and, if approved, will assess a fee to cover the costs associated with the frequency change as determined by the Mexican finance ministry. No fee for transition will apply to non-commercial broadcasters.

The operator will then have a year to begin broadcasting on the new FM channel and will have to simulcast on AM and FM for a full year, dated from the initiation of FM broadcasts.

If the coverage area includes populations that can only receive AM signals, the broadcaster will have to continue AM operations until Cofetel determines they are no longer necessary.

Too crowded

Across Mexico, some 1,580 broadcasters are licensed to operate — 854 on AM and 760 on FM, with some operating on both bands.

The plan to open FM frequencies to AM broadcasters came after Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) members of parliament proposed reform of the federal laws governing radio and television broadcasting to allocate FM frequencies to all AM operators. Under the terms of the proposal, no fees for the transition were envisioned.

The proposed changes would also allow operators to seek FM licenses in nearby markets if the FM spectrum was too crowded in their AM coverage area.

Pre-empting the legislative action, the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT), which is responsible for regulating broadcasters, went ahead with the publication of its own rules for an AM-to-FM transition.

Carlos Sotelo, president of the Comisión de Radio, Televisión y Cinematografía del Senado, said that the move by the SCT would likely benefit the ruling Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), which faces elections in 2009.

According to Sotelo, President Felipe Calderón went too far in publishing these rules, by-passing the constitution and the law. He said that since the airwaves are public property, the award of FM frequencies should follow standard licensing procedures, which are designed to protect the public interest and ensure transparency.

Small operators

Nevertheless, said Sotelo, instead of focusing on constitutional controversies, the Mexican legislature needs to assume its responsibilities and pass long-delayed reforms for electronic media.

For his part, former senator and president of the governmental transparency lobby group Asociación Mexicana de Derecho a la Información (AMEDI), Javier Corral, said the agreement is a “deplorable act of political opportunism” by the federal government, which is “trading public property” for electoral gains.

Cofetel Sets out Migration Plan MEXICO CITY Last September, the Mexican telecommunications authority, the Comisión Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Cofetel), specified six regions for the transition from AM to FM broadcasting.

Region I: Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo.
Region II: Veracruz, Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero.
Region III: Baja California Sur, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes and San Luis Potosí.
Region IV: Jalisco, Colima, Michoacán and Guanajuato.
Region V: Querétaro, Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, Puebla, Estado de México, Distrito Federal and Morelos.
Region VI: Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.

Source — Cofetel, 15 September 2008.Corral said that while small operators may appear to benefit from the SCT move, in reality, the move will reinforce the position of networks and groups that have acquired AM licenses in recent years in anticipation of a move to FM.

Despite these concerns from some sectors, broadcasters have generally welcomed the agreement. Enrique Pereda, president of the Cámara Nacional de la Industria de Radio y Televisión (CIRT) broadcasters association, congratulated the government on the initiative.

According to Pereda, there is space on the FM band for all AM broadcasters. “If someone has five [AM] stations, the agreement will give him at least one in FM — but everyone is going to get something,” he said in an interview with the Reforma newspaper.

As for the re-licensing fee, Pereda said that it would depend on the license area and would not be a great amount for a small city.

Channel spacing

Roque Chávez, founder and former president of Radio Independiente, an association devoted to having FM licenses allocated to AM operators, held a similar view about the agreement. “It is good to see with my own eyes,” he said.

Nevertheless, said Chávez, to accommodate all AM broadcasters on FM, it will be necessary to reduce channel spacing from 800 kHz to 400 kHz, which will mean a modification of standards.

Chávez also said he could anticipate the great majority of AM broadcasters shuttering operations on that waveband within five years.

“It is foreseeable that there would only be a few [AM] transmitters still in operation, primarily in the rural areas of the Mexican Republic,” Chávez said.

Fernando Mejía Barquera, a radio specialist and researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), said the publication of available frequencies in other regions will follow a timeline set out by the Calderón administration.

“We will be looking at the number and location of frequencies offered, and also at the political and technical criteria,” wrote Barquera in his column for the magazine Etc��tera.

Barquera also questioned what the move will mean for non-profit stations. “The Calderón agreement does not make any reference to the support that a state or local government might grant to educational, cultural or indigenous stations to acquire the equipment needed for FM transmissions,” he wrote.

Gabriel Sosa Plata is a reporter specializing in communications media and a regular contributor to Radio World. Contact him via e-mail at[email protected].