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Mexico watchdog sets eye on Slim's web streaming

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CIOL Bureau
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MEXICO: Mexico's telecom regulator is looking into free web streaming from companies owned by Carlos Slim, which has drawn complaints from broadcasters who claim the tycoon is illegally taking away their viewership.

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Slim's Uno Noticias, a web-based channel with sports talk shows and newscasts, has been increasing its offer in recent months, including the two-week transmission of the Pan-American Games in October, hosted in Guadalajara in western Mexico.

"We are analyzing this. The debate is going to be a lot of fun, entertaining. A philosophic debate if you will," Mony de Swaan, head of telecom watchdog Cofetel, told Reuters on Thursday.

The case has stirred concerns among Televisa and TV Azteca, which hold a near duopoly of the Mexican broadcast television market.

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Both companies have been expanding into Slim's phone turf and could further strengthen their ties if competition regulators give the green light to Televisa's proposed acquisition of half of Iusacell, a cellphone company owned by TV Azteca's boss, Ricardo Salinas.

Until Cofetel determines if Uno Noticias' streaming is legal or not, the Slim-owned company can continue to stream shows, De Swaan said. The Cofetel analysis could take several weeks.

Slim's spokesman could not immediately comment on the matter. His spokespeople have said in the past that Uno Noticas' streaming over the Internet is not television broadcasting, therefore there is no breach of their current concession.

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Window opens on TV entry

Slim, the world's richest person, according to Forbes, was denied entry into the television market in May. But a November appeal granted by a judge against the ban has opened a window to potentially overturn the decision from the Communications and Transport ministry to change Slim's Telmex concession and allow the new service.

Companies like Netflix and Maxcom Telecomunicaciones are offering online video and live television rental services in Mexico, a move that did not require a permit from the government.

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Cofetel is also evaluating whether it will proceed with auctions for up to two new digital television networks in the country.

A Cofetel-sponsored consultation that ended this week brought in comments and suggestions from 460 participants about how the TV auctions should be carried. Broadcasters, potential investors, analysts and the general public pitched in their opinions.

De Swaan said the auctions could probably be discussed by Cofetel's five-member board in January. Based on similar auctions in Mexico, a process like this could take up to 18 months to conclude and name winners.

However, if the Cofetel board concludes that there are no conditions that merit the auctions, the process could be sent to the backburner.

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