Zero Hour Looms for Colombia Informals


Bogota, Colombia -- Colombia's television regulator
must narrow down by about a quarter the number of bids that have been submitted for pay-TV
licenses here.

The National Television Commission (CNTV) will eliminate 46
of the 164 bids submitted for the 124 licenses it will award.

The situation is especially tense for the country's
many unlicensed operators, known as "informals," which have submitted bids.
Failing to obtain licenses would quash their plans to operate as legitimate companies.

"We either win or we win," said Henry Reyes, vice
president of Servisatélite S.A., Bogotá's leading informal cable operator, which is
bidding on a regional license covering central Colombia.

Since the end of August, the CNTV staff has been busy
evaluating companies' bids, assigning them "points" that will determine if
they win a license.

The license winners will be announced after Oct. 15, CNTV
sources said. Bidders will then have five days to contest the points assigned by the

Most of Colombia's 1,000 large, informal cable
operators are bidding for both municipal and regional licenses. Several consortiums have
been formed to bring together informals.

Some informals have even teamed up with license-holding
companies to bid on franchises. Others are planning to simply leave the industry, selling
their equipment and facilities to license winners.

It is unclear how many informals will continue to operate
if they do not win licenses, or whether the conflict-ridden CNTV will have the ability to
crack down on them.

CNTV chairman Jorge Hernández, however, emphasized the
agency's anti-piracy commitment. "You can count on" the commission
enforcing regulations, he said. "We will strictly enforce the law."

The Colombian cable operators' association has said it
will help law-enforcement officials in their effort to eliminate piracy.