Mexico Distributes DTV Sets in Preparation for Analog Shutdown

MEXICO CITY—Mexico is the only country in the world that has as a policy for the transition to digital terrestrial television, opting for the delivery of digital television sets, instead of decoders.

Communications Undersecretary José Ignacio Peralta said that given the situation with the first analog shutdown in Latin America in Tijuana, it was more efficient to deliver TV sets to the low-income population instead of TV decoders. When the analog shutdown occurred in Tijuana in May 2013, several citizens protested at being unable to receive television signals.

Jose Ignacio Peralta Peralta said that the policy to deliver TV sets to the population does not affect the projected Mexican budget of 26 billion pesos (about US$ 2 billion). He also said that the delivery of these digital devices is better for the environment as they consume less power than analog sets.

“There is an improvement compared to last year's model, which allowed for the delivery of decoders instead of TV sets, and that it did not allow for all the benefits of digitization, and that it did not meet a new public policy objective of digital inclusion, which is stated in the Mexican Constitution,” Peralta said.

The TV sets can connect to the Internet via a USB port, which could reduce the digital divide in this country. Currently, only 30 percent of households have some kind of Internet service. The government believes that digital TV sets could increase connectivity to the network, but the problem is that there are hundreds of marginalized regions in the country where there is no infrastructure for telecommunications.

As part of this pilot program, the Secretary of Communications and Transport and the Secretariat of Social Development (SEDESOL) began delivery of digital TV sets, on May 24 in the state of Tamaulipas.

At this stage, it is anticipated that 21,441 sets will be delivered in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, another border city. The program provides a total of 13.8 million free television sets across the country, to be delivered to each household that complies with the records of SEDESOL, which is responsible for providing support to the low-income population.

The beneficiaries will be those registered with the national register of beneficiaries of SEDESOL’s social programs. Delivery of TV sets in the northern Mexican border will end in August, and delivery for the interior of the country will start in January 2015.

“At this stage of the program, there will be a total of 107,000 beneficiaries, in 17 municipalities, in the country's northeastern border: 12 in Tamaulipas, four in Nuevo León and one in Coahuila,” the Secretary of State said in a press release.

For the consulting company Mediatelecom Policy & Law, the policy of transition to DTT is unpopular in Mexico because the population does not recognize a real benefit.

“Besides being unprecedented in the world, and by having done away with the Interministerial Commission for Digital Transition [which had been created by decree on Sept. 2, 2010], and by not consulting the TV industry, the DTT policy in Mexico does not take into account, neither does it involve, the entire television industry — from television manufacturers to retailers to broadcasters — which in turn causes the majority of the financial burden to fall directly into the State, without having the industry nor the market play their part in the process to reduce the subsidy.”

Enacting Mexico’s digital television policy began in July 2004, when then President Vicente Fox, a member of the PAN political party, adopted the U.S. A53/ATSC standard for DTV.

In September 2010, during the Felipe Calderón administration, the analog shutdown deadline for 2021 was moved up by decree to 2015. The decree also ordered the installation of decoders in low-income households that lacked digital TV sets.

In May 2012, the former Federal Telecommunications Commission (Cofetel) published an agreement that defined a 90 percent penetration of digital television in the cities, foreseeing the end of analog signals and the beginning of digital signals.

Cofetel had established a staggered schedule of analog shutdowns for the cities of Tijuana, first, then Mexicali; Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and Monterrey, Nuevo León. After that, the analog shutdown would take place in other cities.

Between December 2012 and March 2013, Cofetel launched a pilot program in Tijuana to install free decoders and/or antennas. On May 28, 2013, Tijuana became the first city in Mexico, and in Latin America, to conclude the “analog shutdown.”

This process involved an investment of 360.3 million pesos to install about 200,000 decoders that were delivered in the same number of households by the company Teletec, winner of the public tender.

On the day of the shutdown, dozens of citizens showed up at City Hall to demand delivery of their decoders. The mayor asked for an extension to complete the transition and the next day, President Enrique Peña Nieto asked the Secretary of Communications and Transport, Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, to open a “one-stop shop” to serve the citizens of Tijuana who were left without their decoders and TV service due to the analog shutdown.

Moreover, the shutdown came amid local elections in the state of Baja California. This prompted the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), then the Mexican electoral authority, to ask Cofetel to maintain analog broadcasts of television until the conclusion of the electoral process, which was due to end on July 7, 2013.

The citizens of Tijuana should “be able to receive messages of electoral authorities and political parties and, thus, have more elements to reason their vote,” said IFE in a statement, while stressing the allocation of Cofetel to make the decision.

In response, the Cofetel assembly held a special meeting in which it was determined to suspend the analog shutdown in Tijuana until July 18, 2013.

These events occurred at the same time the process of constitutional reform in telecommunications was being carried out, which was filed in March 2013 and published in the Diario Oficial de la Federación (the Official Paper) on June 11, 2013. The reform included changes to constitutional articles 6 and 7, and it confirmed that the transition to digital terrestrial television would culminate in December 2015.

“The powers of the Union shall be obliged to promote, within the scope of its powers, the implementation of receiver equipment and decoders, which are necessary for the adoption of this government policy by ensuring, in turn, the budgetary resources that are necessary,” states the transitional Article Fifth of the reform.

The constitutional reform in telecommunications also created the autonomous constitutional authority called the “Federal Telecommunications Institute” (IFT), which regulates telecommunications in technical areas and economic competition. The IFT replaced the Federal Telecommunications Commission (Cofetel).

The IFT already determined to reset the date for termination of analog television broadcasting over the air in the cities of Monterrey, Reynosa, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juárez. That date was scheduled for May 29, 2014, and it has now been moved to Nov. 26, 2014.

Analysts say the new analog shutdown is connected to the federal elections of 2015, which has given rise to suspicions that the delivery of television sets could benefit the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). PRI took Enrique Peña Nieto to the presidency in 2012 and it currently has the majority in Congress.

However, what bothers specialists and citizens the most is that a country with so much poverty acquires television sets with a multimillion-dollar price tag. Had the country opted for the purchase and distribution of decoders, the expense would have been three times smaller.

Gabriel Sosa Plata is a journalist and a professor at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM), who regularly contributes articles to Radio World from Mexico. You may contact Mr. Sosa