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Community stations given unprecedented access to digital television frequencies

(AMARC/IFEX) - The Uruguayan communications regulatory body, URSEC (Unidad Reguladora de Servicios de Comunicación), has announced that nine Ultra High Frequency (UHF) bands will be allocated for land-based, open digital television services. In an unprecedented move in terms of equal access to media sources, three of the nine bands were reserved for community television stations. Four of the remaining six channels will be allocated to the private sector, and two will be granted to publicly-owned television stations.

The reservation of a third of all frequencies for community radio and television stations was granted in December 2007 with the approval of the community broadcasting law (Ley 18.232 de Radiodifusión Comunitaria).

Currently, there are four open television stations operating in Uruguay: the state-owned National Television of Uruguay (Televisión Nacional de Uruguay) and three privately-owned stations, Canal 4 Montecarlo, Canal 10 Saeta and Canal 12. Media analysts believe that it is likely that these stations will be granted spots in the new television spectrum, which would mean that television broadcasting would become more diversified with five new stations, including the three community broadcasters.

The URSEC decision also authorises one of the currently-existing private television stations to broadcast digital television on a trial basis, providing that the broadcasts are free and open. According to the URSEC resolution, the experimental broadcasts can be conducted for a period of 180 days and will in no way give any rights or priority to the television station in question with respect to future allocations of ultra high frequencies.

The allocation of the UHF bands will take place by way of a call for proposals from interested parties and will be managed by URSEC. The Uruguayan government has not as yet made any decisions regarding whether it will open a competitive process for private commercial operators or grant "mirror" channels for analog television stations that are already in existence. There also has been no clear decision regarding the entry of new competitors into the open commercial television market, although the URSEC announcement opens the way for a greater diversity of television media outlets.

Taking into the account the fact that national elections are scheduled for October 2009, the government of Tabaré Vázquez should make a decision regarding the above issues soon since a previous law approved during Vázquez's administration prohibits the granting of frequencies a year prior to elections in order prevent misuse in electoral campaigns, as has happened in the past.

The process for granting of the new frequencies to community television stations should be by open and public competition and based on merit, using the procedure established by the community broadcasting law.

For further information on the Community Broadcasting Law (Ley 18.232 de Radiodifusión Comunitaria) see: http://www.ifex.org/fr/content/view/full/87839

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