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Citizen Consultation by the Sub-Secretariat of Telecommunications on the Plan for Digital TV

The Digital Television Law, issued on 22 May 2014, indicates that SUBTEL has 60 working days to publicize the Television Broadcasting Plan that allows for the introduction of Digital TV. This plan should explain how the radio-electric spectrum will be distributed in terms of the new technological context…

Chiara Sáez Baeza*/ Chile, August 2014

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The Digital Television Law, issued on 22 May 2014, indicates that SUBTEL has 60 working days to publicize the Television Broadcasting Plan that allows for the introduction of Digital TV. This plan should explain how the radio-electric spectrum will be distributed in terms of the new technological context.

At its meeting held last May, the Civil Society Council of SUBTEL made ​​an application to the authorities for the Digital TV Plan to be opened to public consultation. This is to say that it is published before the conclusion of the 60 statutory days, so that natural persons, organizations and businesses can issue their comments, suggestions and criticisms of the document. SUBTEL must then decide whether to incorporate or reject these observations and, in the case of the latter, provide its reasons for doing so.

It should be remembered that a Civil Society Council (CSC) is the institutional framework that the Citizen Participation Law has established for the involvement of civil society in government agencies, and such bodies started to form in 2013. Ideally, each Ministry and/or secretariat should have an entity of this nature. However, the work of these representative bodies has been uneven and their decisions are not binding on the respective public policies.

In this particular case, SUBTEL accepted the request of the CSC and the Plan of Digital TV was published on 26 July, with a short deadline of two weeks, due to the pressure of the 60 days stipulated by law.

However, anyone who reviews the published document and who has no training in telecommunications is faced by a dry and rather unapproachable text, which makes it difficult to «participate» with any comment or query. In answer to this observation, it was stated that «all public consultations issued by SUBTEL are of this nature.» It thus remains to be seen as to what is the level of effective participation promoted by the mechanism of Public Consultations; if there is really a genuine interest in civil society participation, or if the technical terminology is being used simply to encrypt the discussion and conceal non-technical options.

Added to the above is the fact that the information was only published on the SUBTEL website and in the government’s Diario Oficial (Official Gazette), which are not communications outlets that are easily accessed by the country’s predominant social sectors.

Lastly, we would like to underline our disappointment with the contents of the consultation document. During 2011 and 2012, and in representation of the Institute of Communications and Image (ICEI) in the context of the work of the Bureau of Citizens and Digital TV, we requested access to the Report on the new Television Broadcasting Plan that had been commissioned by SUBTEL in 2010. Our objective was to find out how many channels would exist in the new digital environment, and how these would be distributed through the different types of broadcasting licenses provided by law (national, regional, local and community-based local transmissions). We were denied access to this report by all three institutional gateways (SUBTEL; the Transparency Council, and the Court of Appeal), and we were told that the report would be published only when the Digital TV Law had been approved.

We hoped that this information would be submitted to public consultation. However, the text under review states that the number of frequencies available per region will not be established at present, rather only «after migration from existing broadcasting licenses» (fourth transitional provision). That is, we still do not know the really important information regarding the impact of the Digital TV Plan on pluralism and media diversity.

Despite the rather unfriendly nature of the consultation, the text of the published Digital TV Plan has allowed us to pose at least the following questions:

With respect to Article 11 («The respective requests for a broadcasting license must be accompanied by a technical project duly supported by an engineer or technician specialized in telecommunications»), one may ask: what facilities does the State provide to local projects of a community nature (i.e. non-profit) to meet this requirement?

Regarding the fourth transitional provision («The Sub-secretariat, after completion of the assignment of the frequencies required for the migration of existing broadcasting licenses at the time of publication of Law 20,750, and those obtained after the entry into force of the aforementioned Law, in virtue of bidding processes implemented prior to the time of entry into force of said Law, will establish by resolution, pursuant to the provisions of the Council and in accordance with Article 50 of Law 18,838, the number of frequencies to be made available by region for the regional, local, local community or national or regional broadcasting licenses, which the Council establishes as being cultural or educational»), various questions come to mind:

The Digital TV Law defines local television coverage of a community nature as «holders of a single broadcasting license within the established margins of provision for license holders offering local coverage.» Given this discriminatory stipulation, that affects only these types of channels (all other service providers are eligible for more than one broadcasting license for their area of coverage), and which may impact the range of their transmission signal and, consequently, their social and financial sustainability. Thus, how can SUBTEL ensure that for each service zone the best quality broadcasting licenses are maintained for local channels of a community nature, so guaranteeing that these can have the greatest outreach with the single broadcasting license permitted to them by law?

When the amount of available frequencies is established, reserving the spectrum of 40% according to law (for channels of regional, local, local community and national characteristics providing educational and cultural content), under the circumstance that the National Television Council (CNTV) has the power to increase or reduce said frequencies:

i) Are digital TV licenses for local and regional channels that are already broadcasting in analog and will begin broadcasting in simulcasting considered part of the spectrum reserve, or does said reserve only refer to new licenses of this nature?

ii) What will be the distribution of available licenses within the reserved spectrum? How many of the licenses for the reserved spectrum will be regional, local, local of a community nature, as well as those frequencies providing educational-cultural content?

iii) How will an equitable distribution of licenses be guaranteed within the reserved spectrum between the different types of licenses that make up said reserve?

iv) In the case of local licenses for community broadcasting: are internal criteria of pluralism established in order to ensure that distribution is not dominated by just one type of community organization?

v) Will the resolution that details this information also be opened to public consultation before it comes into force?

We hope that answers are provided to these queries.

 

*Chiara Sáez Baeza, sociologist, Doctor in Communications; Post-doctoral studies in Government and Public Policies, and Assistant Professor in the Institute of Communication and Image (ICEI) of the University of Chile

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