Bogotá, Colombia -- The long-awaited Colombian cable
licensing process is expected to begin this week.
The country's top broadcast and pay TV authority, the
Comisión Nacional de Televisión (CNTV) is expected to decide whether Colombia's
nine licensed cable operators should bid for new regional licenses or automatically have
That decision will pave the way for the auction of more
than 1,000 pay TV licenses over the next year, a process that the CNTV said will begin in
the first week of June. Last February, the CNTV called an indefinite halt to the licensing
process, which fell into a legal quagmire almost as soon as it began.
The knotty issue for the CNTV has been how to formalize
Colombia's huge sector of unlicensed systems that are estimated to number more than
Currently, Colombia's unlicensed operators are
estimated to have about 10 times more subscribers that the licensed operators'
While not entirely illegitimate, these operators did not
obtain official licenses from the government because they were established at a time when
Colombia's pay TV law was sketchy.
The licensed operators are demanding preferential treatment
over the unlicensed operators, also known as "informals." "We do not have a
problem with legalizing all the informals, but the law stipulates that we do not have to
participate in an auction process," said Carolina Muskus, a lawyer with
Medellin-based Cable Sistema, one of Colombia's nine licensed operators.
Cable Sistema's chairman, Juan Córdoba, added,
"The issue is fairness, be it at the local or the regional level. We have regularly
paid CNTV royalties and taxes. We have invested in the business. We follow copyright
regulations. We deserve the privileges enacted by legislation."
Fairness is also demanded by unlicensed operators. They are
against licensed cable operators receiving regional licenses without bidding in a public
Instead, the unlicensed operators want an auction process
that treats all bidders equally. "We want to compete under the same conditions,"
said Jorge Muñoz of CableUnión S.A., a Bogotá-based group that gathers 150 unlicensed
cable operators across Colombia.
The unlicensed companies are the only cable operators in
many cities and towns. Muñoz warned that for this reason any CNTV policy favoring
licensed operators "would pose more of a social problem than anything else."
Jo Dallas contributed to this article.